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Standards-Setting Appeal on Plain Error Fails in 7th Circuit

A federal appeals court denied a bid by a convicted murderer to rescind the confession that put him in prison or 96 months on a weapons charge. Charles Williams asked judges in the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to set a new standard for plain-error review in light of a 2019 US Supreme Court decision rendered four months after he was sent down that he claimed affected his case. Beyond simple possession, the court ruled in Rehaif v. United States that prosecutors must prove those banned from possessing weapons knowingly violate the prohibition to win a longer sentence.

With courts in other districts vacating convictions in Rehaif’s wake, Williams argued that judges should shift burden of proof to the government when so-called supervening decisions appear to prejudice a case. However, appellate judges cited case law in affirming the sentence. They said that despite there being no mention in the record that Williams knew of his status as an uncontested felon, his misreading of the doctrine around supervening decisions left them powerless to apply the change retroactively.