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Supreme Court decides on awareness of illegal status

In a June decision by the Supreme Court, justices voted 7-2 that prosecutors need to prove that defendants, illegal immigrants with firearms violations, are aware they are committing a crime in order to be found guilty. The majority stated that lawmakers likely didn't intend to punish violators who were simply ignorant of their status, while the two dissenters say that this ruling sets a dangerous precedent. The decision will affect many immigrant defendants in California and throughout the country.

The case decided by the Supreme Court involved a student from the United Arab Emirates who's student visa was revoked when he flunked out of a university in Florida. After leaving school, the defendant regularly went to a firing range and stayed at a hotel near the airport. Federal law enforcement arrested the man after participating in these activities for 53 days. During the defendant's trial, the judge told the jury that the government did not need to prove that the defendant was aware of his illegal status in the country.

The Supreme Court's decision will now require that lower courts inform juries that the government must prove the defendant had knowledge of their illegal status. The majority, in this case, do not believe that proving knowledge of a defendant's legal status will be an undue burden for the government, but the two dissenters argued that the decision would open the door for a significant increase in unwanted activity.

Individuals accused of violating immigration law have the right to get representation from an attorney. An attorney may be able to give their client options to help stay in the country that might not have been previously available. It's the responsibility of the attorney to stay up to date on Supreme Court and other higher court decisions that may affect their clients.

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