United States v. Clegg


Plaintiff, Clegg, was charged with exporting firearms in violation of federal code, who claims that he was encouraged by U.S. officials to sell firearms to Afghan rebels resisting soviet occupation.  Clegg believed this encouragement constituted permission to transport and smuggle weapons. Clegg argues he acted in “reasonable good-faith reliance on statements of United States officials that led him to believe he was lawfully transporting guns.”  He claims U.S. commanders were aware of and supported his shipment of arms.


District court held that certain classified information was admissible to Clegg’s defense.  Government appealed decision to allow such classified information and raise his defense.


Whether a reasonable good-faith reliance on statements of United States officials that led defendant to believe he was lawfully transporting guns would be defense in prosecution for exporting firearms.

Holding and Rule

A buyer has the right to reasonably rely on the statements of not only licensed firearms dealers, as was exemplified in Talmadge, but certainly to high ranking U.S. military officials in a territory not governed by U.S. law. Clegg’s defense is presentable.  Because Congress granted through the Gun control Act of 1968 “licensed firearms dealers federal agents in connection with the gathering and dispensing of information on the purchase of firearms,” Clegg can reasonably raise mistake of law defense based on reliance on high ranking officials’ advice and statements.


Judgment of District Court Affirmed.


Skopil.  Mistake of law is no defense, generally.  An exception has been made in law where one relies on official interpretation of that law.  Nothing in the case shows that Clegg relied on the government agent’s advice, however.  Clegg never alleged that U.S. official actually told him that his conduct was lawful or specifically authorized his conduct.  The aid of U.S. officials in undertaking the act does not necessarily constitute authorization or advice requirements existing in prior case law.  Even though the U.S. officials’ conduct appears to have been consent, Clegg’s defense falls short of alleging specific authorization or statements suggesting that his conduct was lawful.  His defense, therefore, is invalid.

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