In United States v. Leonard, No. 19-14142 (July 8, 2021) (Martin, Grant, Brasher), the Court held that an indictment’s failure to set out an element of the offense does not warrant an automatic presumption of prejudice to the defendant. Any such error is subject to the harmless-error inquiry.
Defendant was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm prior to the Supreme Court’s issuance of Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019). Once the Supreme Court granted certiorari review in Rehaif, the government, in an abundance of caution, superseded defendant’s indictment to include the knowledge element. The defendant moved to dismiss the new indictment as legally insufficient, which the district court denied. On appeal, defendant challenged his indictment, the district court’s refusal to reopen his suppression hearing, the district court’s denial of his motion to hold a hearing to challenge the search warrant affidavit, whether cumulative trial errors warranted reversal, and the propriety of his sentence.
With regard to the indictment, the Court held that an indictment that references only § 922(g) and not also § 924(a)(2) is sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction. Additionally, the indictment was itself legally sufficient and gave defendant adequate notice of the elements the government needed to prove. But, even if the indictment could have been better drafted, any error in its wording was harmless, applying the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Greer.
With regard to the district court’s refusal to reopen the suppression hearing, the Court found no abuse of discretion because the “new evidence” defendant referenced did not contradict the testimony the district court already considered at the hearing.
With regard to challenges to the veracity of search warrant affidavit, the Court held that defendant failed to make a “substantial preliminary showing” that the search warrant author made false statements intentionally or with a reckless disregard for the truth, and that the false statement was necessary to the finding of probable cause.
With regard to the alleged cumulative trial errors, the Court held such relief unwarranted where, as here, there is only one error or no errors at all.
Finally, the Court affirmed defendant’s ACCA-enhanced sentence.