United States v. Gear, No. 19-10353 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Gear, a native of Australia, moved to Hawaii to work. Gear’s employer applied for, and Gear received, an “H-1B” nonimmigrant visa. Gear later returned from visiting Australia with a rifle. Gear was fired and needed a new visa. Gear created a new company and obtained a new H-1B visa. A DHS agent learned Gear was present on an H-1B visa and bragged about owning firearms, and obtained a search warrant. Before the search, Gear stated, “he couldn’t possess a firearm … because he was not a U.S. citizen.” Gear stated his ex-wife had shipped a rifle and gun safe to Hawaii but he claimed they had been discarded because “he couldn’t have it.” Gear eventually admitted that the gun and safe were in the garage.
He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(B) for possessing a firearm while being an alien who had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. The jury was instructed the government had to prove Gear “knowingly possessed” the rifle, that had been transported in foreign commerce, and that Gear had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. Before Gear was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided Rehaif, holding that under section 922(g), the government must prove the defendant “knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.”
The Ninth Circuit affirmed Gear’s conviction. While the government must prove the defendant knew he had a nonimmigrant visa, the erroneous jury instructions did not affect Gear’s substantial rights because the record overwhelmingly indicates that he knew it was illegal for him to possess a firearm.