A Bad Combination: Machine Guns and Lying to a Grand Jury

While some would argue that a former military member and federal employee should be held to a higher standard, this petitioner argued his status and poor health justified reducing his 33-month prison sentence. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court but, with the exception of Justice David Souter, he did not convince the court his case was meritorious.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a 33-month prison term by finding that the prison sentence was within sentencing guidelines. A former federal employee and a decorated Vietnam veteran had argued that a sentence of 33 months was unreasonable because of his special circumstances. (Rita v. United States, No. 06–5754 (June 21, 2007)

While some might argue that a former military member and federal employee should be held to a higher standard because of the public trust given to such a person, Victor Rita took a different approach. While his 33-month sentence was at the low end of the sentencing guidelines, he argued that as a former federal employee, he would be vulnerable in prison because he has been involved in government criminal justice work which led to convictions. Presumably, some of those convicted criminals are now in prison and would seek revenge against him.

He also argued that he was in poor health and that he had performance valuable military service and received numerous awards and recommendations during his military service. These three circumstances, he contended, should have led to a more lenient sentence.

But the court did not buy that argument. In an 8-1 decision, it found that a sentence with guidenlines is "presumptively reasonable." The decision by the Supreme Court will make it harder to get similar sentences overturned if they are within sentencing guidelines. The Court had previously reuled that sentencing guidelines were advisory and not mandatory. This decision will eliminate some of the confusion on the issue and is likely to reduce the success of similar appeals in the future.

And what did he do in order to receive a prison sentence?

He made two false statements to a federal grand jury. The jury was investigating a gun company. Prosecutors believed that buyers of a kit, called a "PPSH 41 machinegun ‘parts kit,’ " could assemble a machinegun from the kit, and that the company had not secured the necessary permits to import machine guns.

Rita had purchased one of the kits and when he was contacted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he agreed to let the agent inspect the kit. But, before, meeting with the agent, he sent back the kit and, instead, substituted a kit that did not amount to a machine gun. The government contended that he lied to the grand jury about his actions and he was convicted for making false statements and committing perjury.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47