Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"Employment" Can Include, Doesn't Require, Payment of Wages

US v. Weaver: Weaver and his codefendants were members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, which the Government alleged was involved in various nefarious activities. They were charged with "being employed" by a prohibited person and possessing a firearm "in the course of such employment." The "employer" was the president of the club, who was a convicted felon and, thus, could not legally possess firearms. The district court concluded that the statute required the Government to prove that Weaver and the others were "employed for wages," a standard which the Government admitted it could not meet. Therefore, the district court dismissed that charge.

The Government appealed and the Fourth Circuit reversed. After dealing with the procedural irregularities of the appeal (in a footnote), the court concluded that the district court's reading placed "an artificial restriction on the statute." The statute's plain language, the court concluded, does not show a "rigid requirement that defendants be hired for tangible compensation," because the word "employ" has many potential meanings. A more flexible test is appropriate and better implements the structure and purpose of the statute. However, the court declined the opportunity to set out that test in detail, remanding to the district court for further proceedings.

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