Second Circuit Criminal Law Blog

Circuit Holds That Supreme Court’s Rehaif Decision Did Not Announce New Rule of Constitutional Law

In Mata v. United States, the Second Circuit (Park, Nardini, Menashi) issued a per curiam opinion denying the petitioner’s motion for leave to file a second motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h).  Proceeding pro se, Mata argued that his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) should be vacated in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), which clarified what the government must prove in order to meet the “knowingly” mens rea requirement of § 922(g).  Consistent with prior decisions issued by the Third and Eleventh Circuits, the Second Circuit held that Rehaif concerned an issue of statutory interpretation and did not announce a new rule of constitutional law.  Accordingly, Mata’s motion did not meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). 

Given the significance of the Rehaif decision and the number of defendants who are prosecuted each year for felon-in-possession offenses, it is not surprising that the Court needed to address this issue in a precedential opinion.  This decision appears to undercut the “sky-is-falling” prediction in Justice Alito’s Rehaif dissent, where he predicted a wave of 2255 petitions and evidentiary hearings.  See Rehaif, 139 S. Ct. at 2213 (Alito, J., dissenting).  At least in the case of those inmates who have already filed a 2255 petition in the Second Circuit, Rehaif will not justify making a second or successive petition.

By Jared Buszin and Harry Sandick