Restoration of firearms rights: 50-state surveys

We have recently converted the 50-state surveys that are part of the Restoration of Rights Resource from PDF to HTML format.  Two of these surveys deal with loss and restoration of firearms privileges as a result of a criminal conviction:  Chart # 1 is titled “Loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges,” and Chart # 2 is “State law relief from federal firearms disabilities.”   Chart # 1 is a straightforward description of the relevant provisions of each state’s laws, showing when firearms rights are lost based upon a felony conviction (or in some cases misdemeanor crimes of violence) and how firearms rights may be regained.  Chart # 1 also describes for each state when conviction results in loss of basic civil rights (voting, eligibility for public office and jury service), and how those rights are regained — a matter that is frequently relevant for avoiding the independent penalties under federal firearms dispossession laws.

Chart # 2 attempts the more complex analysis of when criminal conviction results in exposure to federal prosecution as a “felon in possession” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Regaining firearms rights under state law does not automatically result in avoiding the federal bar, which generally depends upon an additional measure of state relief such as a pardon or expungement, or restoration of civil rights.  (The courts have generally held that automatic restoration counts.)  Surprisingly, the law is not entirely clear as to when a state conviction will trigger the federal penalty, and when state relief removes it.  Chart # 2 therefore emphasizes the importance of seeking legal counsel to avoid liability.

For those with a federal conviction, the only way to avoid liability under § 922(g) and regain the right to possess a firearm is through a presidential pardon (which would also relieve any state law liability).  The administrative restoration provision in 18 U.S.C. § 925 has not been funded for 25 years.  As reported by Alan Gura in a post on this site last winter, a few individuals with dated nonviolent federal convictions have been successful in regaining firearms rights through the courts.

The 50-state charts will remain available for download in PDF form.

 

Updated North Carolina relief guide now available

ncsealcolorAt long last I have released the 2015 edition of my online guide to relief from a criminal conviction in North Carolina. This free guide, available here from the UNC School of Government, covers the various forms of relief available under North Carolina law, including expunctions, certificates of relief, petitions to restore firearm rights and terminate sex offender registration obligations, and other procedures. It includes changes made by the North Carolina General Assembly through the end of its 2015 legislative session.

This edition of the guide is longer, reflecting the greater attention given by the North Carolina General Assembly to this area of law in recent years. North Carolina law now authorizes certificates of relief, patterned after the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act. North Carolina also has expanded the opportunities to obtain an expunction.

Expunctions are now available for older nonviolent felony convictions. Recent statutory changes prohibit public and private employers and educational institutions from inquiring about expunged charges and convictions and, further, require government agencies to advise applicants that they have the right not to disclose expunged information. People still must meet precise statutory criteria to be eligible for relief, however. Although North Carolina courts granted approximately 13,000 expunctions of dismissals in fiscal year 2013–14, they granted about 700 expunctions of convictions and other matters. See 2014 Expunctions Report [NCAOC and DOJ Joint Report Pursuant to G.S. § 15A-160] (Sept. 1, 2014) (providing data on expunctions from 2008 to 2014).

Read more

President promises a more “open” pardon process, more pardon grants

1024px-Pascal_Dagnan-Bouveret_(1852-1929)_-_Les_Bretonnes_au_pardon_-_Lissabon_Museu_Calouste_Gulbenkian_21-10-2010_13-52-01During a Town Hall in South Carolina on March 6, President Obama spoke for the second time in recent weeks about his intention to use his pardon power more generously in the final two years of his term.

Responding to a criminal defense attorney who asked what she could do to “increase the number of federal pardons,” the President explained that he was taking a “new approach” to pardons after receiving surprisingly few favorable recommendations from the Justice Department during his first term.  He said he had asked the Attorney General to “open up” the pardon process, and to work with advocacy groups and public defenders to make people more aware of the availability of this relief:

Read more

Putting teeth in Heller’s promise for people with a conviction: Second Amendment litigation round-up

1024px-Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_ParkAlan Gura describes in this post recent efforts to persuade federal courts that people who have lost their firearms rights by virtue of a criminal conviction may be entitled to claim the protections of the Second Amendment.  Alan himself has spearheaded this litigation for the Second Amendment Foundation, following up his Supreme Court victories in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.   While successes have to date involved civil rights actions in behalf of people with dated non-violent convictions, these precedents may eventually find their way into felon-in-possession and related prosecutions. They also may portend, like the cases invalidating retroactive registration requirements, a greater willingness by courts to limit the scope of categorical collateral consequences that are considered unreasonable and unfair. Ed.

Read more

Another court invalidates federal felon-in-possession statute on Second Amendment grounds

GUNSA second federal court in Pennsylvania has held that the federal felon-in possession statute cannot constitutionally be applied to an individual convicted many years ago of a minor non-violent offense. In Suarez v. Holder, the district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that a man convicted in 1990 of misdemeanor possession of an unregistered handgun and sentenced to probation was “no more dangerous than a typical law-abiding citizen,” and therefore entitled to claim the protection of the Second Amendment.  The Suarez court followed the reasoning of the court in Binderup v. Holder, decided in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District in September.  The government has appealed the Binderup decision, and the government’s brief is due this month. Read more

Appeals court finds federal firearms law constitutionally flawed

GUNSIn a major victory for Second Amendment advocates, the Sixth Circuit court of appeals has sustained an as-applied constitutional challenge to the federal firearms dispossession law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  While the particular provision of that law at issue in Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriffs Department is § 922(g)(4), the subsection prohibiting firearms possession by anyone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution,” the court’s broad holding and analytical approach will be of considerable interest to those watching developments under the felon-in-possession subsection of the law, § 922(g)(1).

Read more

Second Amendment challenges to felon-in-possession laws

Below is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Collat_ConsequencesConsequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming), this one about challenges to firearms-related collateral consequences based on the constitutional right to bear arms.  Criminal defense lawyers representing clients on felon-in-possession charges, and anyone seeking restoration of firearms rights after conviction, will be interested to know that the government has appealed the district court’s decision in Binderup v. Holder cited in note 8, discussed here a few weeks ago.

Binderup is a civil rights action in which the federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that the federal felon-in-possession statute could not constitutionally be applied to an individual convicted of a non-violent sex offense in 1998 and sentenced to probation.  This case, the first in which a federal court invalidated a federal statute on Second Amendment grounds, is likely to provide an early opportunity for the court of appeals to consider an issue that most commentators and some courts believe was left unresolved by the Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller.

Read more

California’s Proposition 47 and collateral consequences: Part II (reentry and restoration of rights)

Prop 47 and restoration of rights 

California’s recently enacted Proposition 47 fundamentally alters the landscape for a handful of lower-level felony offenses in California. As discussed by Jeffery Aaron in a previous post, Prop 47 reclassifies eight offenses as misdemeanors, including simple drug possession offenses and theft of less than $950. Anyone with a qualifying conviction, who also does not have a disqualifying prior, can now petition under Prop 47 to have a felony reclassifiedimages as a misdemeanor. The most significant and immediate relief will be for people who are incarcerated for qualifying low-level felonies and who are now eligible for resentencing and release. Public defender offices around the state are busy filing those petitions.

But, Prop 47 also allows two other populations to petition for reclassification of their qualifying felonies to misdemeanors: People who are under supervision but not incarcerated (on probation, parole, or post-release community supervision), and people whose sentences were completed long ago. This aspect of the new law presents good opportunities for tens of thousands of Californians, and not insignificant implementation challenges.

Simply by reclassifying certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Prop 47 can undo some of the most serious collateral consequences.  It’s clear from our experience providing reentry legal services to thousands of clients over the years that people with felony, as opposed to misdemeanor, convictions face increased barriers to employment, housing, and full and meaningful community reintegration and citizenship. For example, people with a felony conviction, even a decades-old low-level offense, can never serve on a jury in California. For many people, Prop 47 will reverse this lifetime disenfranchisement and move them one step closer to full civic engagement.

But unfortunately, many of the statuary and extra-legal barriers to successful reentry that block people convicted of felonies also apply to people with convictions for misdemeanors and criminal infractions. Consequently, Prop 47 relief alone is not a cure-all for collateral consequences, and for most people it’s not even the most important petition they can file to overcome the statutory disabilities they face.  The following section describes how Prop 47 relief interacts with other California relief mechanisms. Read more

North Carolina offers detailed on-line guide to relief from a criminal conviction

We’ve just learned that the School of Government at the University of North Carolina has produced a detailed and well-organized online guide to obtaining relief from a North Carolina criminal conviction. You can view the guide here.  The guide explains in one place the various mechanisms available in North Carolina for obtaining relief from collateral consequences, including expunctions, judicial certificates of relief, and other procedures.

The guide supplements the School’s Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool, C-CAT, an online tool enabling users to identify the potential consequences of a criminal conviction in North Carolina.  C-CAT is user-friendly and has been kept up to date with new laws enacted since its clouds-over-smoky-mountain-national-park-nc130launch two years ago.

The relief guide is organized by the type of relief being sought and includes tables breaking down the specific requirements for relief. It describes special relief provisions for sex offender registration and firearms dispossession, as well as for drug crimes and juvenile adjudications.  Features of the online guide include keyword searching, live links to internal and external cross-references such as statutes and forms, cases and opinions, and periodic updates. The guide was prepared by John Rubin, Albert Coates Professor of Public Law and Government.

This guide is the most detailed and user-friendly one we have seen, and should be a model for other jurisdictions.

Federal court embraces as-applied Second Amendment limit on federal felon-in-possession prohibition

A federal district court in Philadelphia has issued the first decision to invalidate the federal felon-in-possession statute on constitutional grounds. The notable as-applied Second Amendment ruling comes in Binderup v. Holder, No. 13-cv-06750 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 25, 2014).  Perhaps significantly, Binderup is a civil rights suit brought by an individual seeking relief from a minor conviction in his distant past, not one in which a defendant is seeking to avoid prosecution a federal criminal on Second Amendment grounds.  Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

As further discussed below, plaintiff distinguishes himself from those individuals traditionally disarmed as the result of prior criminal conduct and demonstrates that he poses no greater threat of future violent criminal activity than the average law-abiding citizen. Therefore, he prevails on his as-applied challenges to § 922(g)(1) on Second-Amendment grounds under the framework for such claims set forth by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in United States v. Barton, 633 F.3d 168 (3d Cir. 2011).

The Binderup decision is here.  Gene Volokh’s comments on the decision from the Volokh Conspiracy are here.

Alan Gura, who represented Mr. Binderup and argued both D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago in the Supreme Court, promises more Second Amendment fireworks involving people with dated non-violent convictions.  Criminal defense lawyers representing clients on felon-in-possession charges, and anyone seeking restoration of firearms after conviction, should keep an eye on this space.