Court Upholds Restrictions on Gun Possession for Domestic Abusers

As we previously anticipated, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case which tested that the limits of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. At issue was the federal restriction that bans gun possession from individuals subject to a domestic violence restraining order and whether or not that restriction violated a person’s Second Amendment rights. The case, United States v. Rahimi, involved Zackery Rahimi, who was charged with participating in 5 shootings while he had an active restraining order against him, which prohibited him from possessing a firearm as a prohibited person under federal law under the circumstances. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute did not violate the Second Amendment rights of the individual, further shedding light as to the limits of government regulation in light of its historic decision in United States v. Bruen which found that any firearm laws must be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, wrote that the right to keep and bear arms is “not unlimited” and that firearm regulations in the United States “included regulations to stop individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms.” Thus, individuals can be “temporarily disarmed” if they have “been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another” in upholding the ban against those subject to a domestic violence restraining order. This ruling will impact lower courts going forward, as some courts have found that the Bruen decision left almost all regulations of firearms running afoul of the Second Amendment rights of individuals to own and possess firearms. However, the ruling did not create any bright line rules going forward about what limits do exist and when government oversteps its authority in regulating firearms, so expect further litigation going forward in that area of the law. This ruling is limited to the government’s ability to prosecute gun possessors who are subject to a restraining order.

Supreme Court Rules Only Juries Can Determine if Defendant is a “Career Criminal”

On the same day as the Rahimi decision was handed down, the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case, United States v. Erlinger, that only juries can find whether or not an individual meets the qualifications under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) for the steep sentencing enhancement sentence to apply. Under ACCA, courts must impose a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of illegally possessing a firearm if they have at least 3 previous violent felonies or serious drug offenses. In the case at hand, a man was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and had his possible punishment go from a 10-year maximum sentence to a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. The judge found that while they believed a five-year sentence would have been fair, the sentencing court was obliged by ACCA to hand down a 15-year sentence because the judge found that his previous convictions had been distinct events as required by ACCA, and not one continuous criminal episode as the defense argued which would have removed the sentencing enhancement. Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Gorsuch ruled that the judge violated the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to trial by jury and that the defendant was entitled to ask a jury whether the predicate offenses were committed separately or as part of one criminal episode. While seemingly narrow grounds, moving forward defendants who potentially considered Armed Career Criminals under the ACCA law will have the benefit of juries deciding whether their predicate offenses qualify for the increased punishment. In addition, it is expected that previously convicted ACCA defendants will seek recourse and attempt to vacate their convictions where the sentencing enhancements were decided by a judge opposed to a jury.