Federal law prohibits firearm possession by anyone convicted of a “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). There is an exemption to this law for “any State offense classified as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less” or if the conviction has been expunged or the individual has been pardoned. Id. § 921(a)(20)(B).
Basically, if you are convicted of a crime that has a potential penalty of 2 or more years in jail, you are banned from owning a firearm for the rest of your life. This ban takes effect even if you are sentenced to probation or just a fine – all that matters is that there was the potential for 2+ years in jail. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, certain low-level crimes fit this description and serve to limit the 2nd Amendment rights of those convicted.
In a ruling released Wednesday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals lessened this ban where the convictions are minor and where the person does not pose a threat as an irresponsible firearm owner. Binderup v. Ag United States, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16407 (3d Cir. Pa. Sept. 7, 2016). The 3rd Circuit encompasses Pennsylvania and New Jersey and this ruling has a significant impact on gun regulations in our area.
The case involved two Pennsylvania residents – Mr. Julio Suarez and Mr. Daniel Binderup. In 1990, Suarez pled guilty to possession of a handgun without a license. He was sentenced to three years of probation; however, the charge carried a potential sentence of three years and so he was banned from owning a firearm. In 1996, Binderup pled guilty to misdemeanor corruption of a minor and was sentenced to probation and a $300 fine. Again, this charge carried a sentence of more than two years and so Binderup was also barred from owning a firearm.
Neither Suarez nor Binderup served a single day in jail – a fact that the 3rd Circuit Court focused on when ruling that their charges were not serious enough to ban them from owning firearms. Both individuals cited the 2nd Amendment in their wish to possess firearms to defend themselves and their homes. They brought the case challenging the statute’s language and the law’s constitutionality.
The Government argued that Suarez was a potentially irresponsible person who is likely to misuse firearms in the future and Binderup was likely to commit future crimes.
The Court disagreed stating “[t]he Government has presented no evidence that either Binderup or Suarez has been, or would be, dangerous, violent, or irresponsible with firearms.” The Court also pointed to the fact that neither offense involved any violence or threat of violence and that both individuals have spent the past 18 years as “responsible, law-abiding citizens to whom the Second Amendment protection extends.”
I anticipate this case being appealed to the Supreme Court, but for the time being this ruling changes the typical penalties associated with low-level misdemeanor crimes. This case highlights the importance of fully understanding the significance of your charges before you can properly prepare your defense.
If you or someone you know is charged with a crime, a firearm ban could be one of the unintended consequences of a conviction. If you have any questions related to criminal charges, contact Attorney Michael F. Niznik at 267-589-0601 for a free consultation.
Binderup v. Ag United States, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16407 (3d Cir. Pa. Sept. 7, 2016).