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Appellate and District Courts Grapple with Second Amendment Rights Post-Bruen

In the wake of Bruen, defendants across the country are challenging whether restrictions covering the right to possess firearms are constitutional.

Second Amendment Rights Challenged Post Bruen

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, through the New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen case (142 S. Ct. 2111, 2022), altered the legal landscape regarding the evaluation of restrictions on Second Amendment rights. This change has sparked a wave of challenges nationwide, the constitutionality of criminal laws limiting the right to possess firearms.

United States vs. Rahimi:  A Challenge to the Firearms Laws for an Unsympathetic Defendant

Rahimi's Unconstitutional Firearm Possession

A recent case in the Dallas Metroplex area sheds light on these challenges.  In Rahimi, No. 21-11001, the defendant faced charges for possessing firearms while under a civil protective order, following activities that raised concerns. Despite the explicit prohibition in the protective order, Rahimi moved to dismiss the indictment under 18 USC 922(g)(8), claiming unconstitutionality. Initially unsuccessful, the Bruen case prompted a rehearing, ultimately leading to a groundbreaking decision.

Bruen Test:  Protecting Second Amendment Rights

Bruen set forth a critical test to evaluate the constitutionality of firearm restrictions. The court clarified that when the Second Amendment covers an individual's conduct, the government must prove that the regulation aligns with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. This means demonstrating a historical precedent that justifies the restriction.

Dissecting the Prosecutor's Argument: In Rahimi's case, prosecutors argued that Bruen and Heller restricted Second Amendment rights to "law-abiding, responsible citizens." However, the court rejected this argument, emphasizing that such a limitation lacked clarity and consistency. The court pointed out that historically prohibited groups, like felons and the mentally ill, were exceptions explicitly mentioned in Heller.

The Limiting Principle Issue: Further, the court questioned the absence of a true limiting principle in the argument, raising concerns about potential overreach. If applied broadly, it could lead to the exclusion of various groups, such as speeders or political nonconformists, from Second Amendment protection.

Bruen Test Application in Rahimi: Applying the Bruen test to Rahimi's case, the court determined that his possession of firearms fell within the purview of the Second Amendment. To constitutionally restrict his right, the government had to demonstrate a historical tradition justifying such regulation. However, the evidence presented by prosecutors failed to establish a sufficient analogue to the proposed statute.

Update:  Rahimi Case Goes to Supreme Court, Where Justices Seem Skeptical

The Rahimi case was argued by the Supreme Court recently. Rahimi's position as an unsympathetic and dangerous defendant was put on display there:

Representing Rahimi, J. Matthew Wright faced a tougher reception from the justices. Roberts made clear that, in his view, Rahimi was not someone who should have a gun. “You don’t have any doubt that your client’s a dangerous person, do you?” he said to Wright.

Other justices appeared skeptical of Wright’s position, which Justice Elena Kagan interpreted as requiring the government to show a historical regulation “essentially targeting the same kind of conduct as the regulation under review.”

Justice Samuel Alito chimed in, asking Wright whether his position was that, “except for someone who has been convicted of a felony, a person may not be prohibited from possessing a firearm in his home?”

Wright later hedged on that position, prompting Barrett to say that she was “so confused.” And when Wright answered “maybe” to a question about whether a legislature could ban the possession of guns by people with mental illnesses, Kagan told Wright that she believed he was “running away from [his] argument” because its implications were “just so untenable.” “I mean, it just seems to me,” Kagan continued, “that your argument applies to a wide variety” of gun restrictions “that we take for granted now because it’s so obvious that people who have guns pose a great danger to others.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Wright about another possible effect of a ruling in Rahimi’s favor. In its reply brief, Kavanaugh noted, the Biden administration indicated that the federal background check system used for the sale of firearms incorporates information from domestic-violence protection orders. But if Rahimi prevails, Kavanaugh said, the system “could no longer stop persons subject to those domestic-violence protective orders from buying firearms.”  

Amy Howe, SCOTUSBlog.  The Court could rule any time between now and July of 2024.

Texas District Court Strikes Down 922(n): Quiroz’s Victory Under Bruen Standard

In a significant development, a Texas District Court ruled on the unconstitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(n) in the case of Quiroz, reshaping the landscape for firearm regulations under the Second Amendment. This decision follows the Supreme Court's pivotal Bruen case, which introduced a new standard for evaluating the constitutionality of such regulations.

Quiroz's Case Overview

In March 2022, Quiroz faced federal charges, including making a false statement during a firearm purchase (Count 1) and the illegal receipt of a firearm while under indictment (Count 2). A jury convicted Quiroz on both counts. However, invoking Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, Quiroz sought to set aside the verdict, citing the Bruen decision.

Bruen Standard

Changing the Game: Bruen marked a turning point in Second Amendment jurisprudence, establishing a standard that courts must follow. It emphasized that when the Second Amendment covers an individual's conduct, the government must justify its regulation by aligning it with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. This standard aims to ensure that regulations are consistent with the Constitution's protection of individuals' rights.

District Court Analysis

The Texas District Court, examining Quiroz's Rule 29 claim, delved into the history of the Second Amendment and the specific statute, 922(n). Notably, the court distinguished previous cases, including Bruen, which focused on "where" arms could be carried, from 922(n), which targets "who" can possess firearms.

Historical Examination

Following an extensive historical and procedural analysis, the district court expressed skepticism about the government's ability to defend the constitutionality of 922(n). The court highlighted Bruen's impact, emphasizing that the Supreme Court had made the constitutional standard clearer, eliminating the need for judges to make challenging empirical judgments about the costs and benefits of firearm restrictions.

District Court’s Verdict

In a decisive conclusion, the district court affirmed that the Second Amendment is not a 'second class right.' Post-Bruen, the government must prove that laws regulating conduct falling within the Second Amendment's plain text align with the nation's historical tradition. The court found little evidence that 922(n), which prohibits those under felony indictment from obtaining a firearm, aligns with this historical tradition. Consequently, the court deemed 922(n) unconstitutional.

In light of the district court's ruling, Quiroz's motion was granted, and the indictment was dismissed. This decision underscores the impact of the Bruen standard on Second Amendment challenges, setting a precedent for future cases and affirming the heightened scrutiny applied to firearm regulations.

Landmark Ruling: District Court Deems Sections of 922 Unconstitutional in Price Case

In a groundbreaking legal development, the District Court addressed the constitutionality of certain provisions in 18 U.S.C., based on the case of United States v. Price. This decision stems from the arrest of Randy Price, who faced charges related to firearm possession and an obliterated serial number. This article delves into the court's analysis, invoking the recent Bruen decision and shedding light on the implications for Second Amendment rights.

Price's Legal Battle

Randy Price found himself in legal trouble when police discovered a firearm with an obliterated serial number during a routine stop. With a prior felony conviction, Price faced charges on two fronts: Count One for being a felon in possession of a firearm (922(g)) and Count Two for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number (922(k)).

Bruen's Influence on the Legal Landscape

The district court emphasized the transformative impact of the Bruen decision on evaluating Second Amendment rights. Post-Bruen, courts must assess the scope of the Second Amendment in alignment with its understanding during its adoption in 1791. Only regulations deemed constitutional in 1791 hold constitutional merit today, according to the Supreme Court.

The Government attempted to argue that 922(k) constituted a "commercial regulation" and did not infringe on Second Amendment rights. However, the court dismissed this argument, highlighting that 922(k) is not a commercial regulation but a law criminalizing possession after a serial number alteration. The court illustrated how the law could lead to unintended consequences, penalizing individuals for mere possession, even in cases of inheritance.

Constitutionality Analysis

Moving to the heart of the matter, the district court subjected 922(k) to a two-step analysis. First, the law is presumed unconstitutional unless the Government can demonstrate its consistency with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. Drawing from Bruen, the court delved into a comprehensive historical examination, revealing that serial numbers were not mandated or widespread in 1791. The court emphasized that 922(k), criminalizing possession based on altered serial numbers, was a recent development and, therefore, unconstitutional.

The district court delivered a landmark verdict, declaring 922(k) unconstitutional due to its inconsistency with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. However, the court upheld the constitutionality of 922(g), affirming the prohibition on felons possessing firearms as aligned with the Nation's historical firearm regulation.

The Price case sets a significant precedent, emphasizing the need for regulations to align with historical traditions for constitutional validity. This decision not only impacts Randy Price's case but also carries implications for future firearm-related charges, shaping the ongoing conversation about Second Amendment rights in the legal landscape.

Western District of Texas Strikes Down 922(g)(8) Charge in Perez-Gallan Case

In a landmark decision, the Western District of Texas has declared a significant federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), unconstitutional in the case of Perez-Gallan. This ruling, influenced by the recent Bruen decision, marks a pivotal moment in firearm challenges, impacting cases involving family violence protective orders. This article provides a simplified overview of the case for easy comprehension.

Background of Perez-Gallan

In the case of Perez-Gallan (4:22-cr-00427-DC, W.D. Tex.), the district court ruled on the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) post-Bruen, ultimately granting the defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment. Section 922(g)(8) criminalizes individuals subject to court orders related to family violence protective measures. This statute makes it a crime for individuals under specific court orders that involve: 

  • (A) A court hearing with notice and an opportunity for the person to participate.
  • (B) Restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child.
  • (C) Inclusion of a finding that the person poses a credible threat to the safety of the intimate partner or child, or explicit prohibition of the use of force.

Following a thorough legal and historical analysis in line with Bruen's framework, the court concluded that 922(g)(8) lacked the necessary historical support. According to Bruen, the constitutionality of gun regulations now hinges solely on historical inquiry. The court emphasized that the government failed to demonstrate that 922(g)(8) aligns with the historical tradition of firearm regulation in the nation.

Court's Verdict

In embracing the principles outlined in Bruen, the court unequivocally stated that the government's inability to prove alignment with historical traditions renders 922(g)(8) unconstitutional. The court firmly declined to insert its own public policy concerns, aligning with Bruen's framework. Consequently, the court held that 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional, setting a precedent for challenges related to family violence protective orders.

The Perez-Gallan case showcases the impact of Bruen on firearm challenges, particularly in cases involving family violence protective orders. This historic ruling emphasizes the critical role historical analysis plays in determining the constitutionality of firearm regulations. As the legal landscape evolves, this decision holds significance for future cases and discussions surrounding Second Amendment rights.

First Circuit's En Banc Decision: Clarifying Mens Rea Requirements in 18 U.S.C. 922(g) Cases

In a significant ruling, the First Circuit en banc, in the case of Minor (20-1903), addressed the insufficiency of jury instructions in 18 U.S.C. 922(g) cases, highlighting the importance of the knowing element. This article simplifies the legal details, emphasizing the impact on Second Amendment rights and offering clarity on firearm challenges.

Minor's Conviction and Appeal

Minor faced conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g), a law prohibiting certain individuals from possessing firearms. A divided panel of the First Circuit initially vacated Minor's conviction, citing instructional error based on the Supreme Court's Rehaif v. United States decision. The panel held that the jury should have found that Minor knew his assault conviction categorized him as a prohibited person under 922(g)(9).

The government sought an en banc rehearing to reconsider the mens rea requirement for convictions under 924(a)(2) and 922(g)(9). The First Circuit, upon en banc review, once again vacated Minor's conviction due to instructional error but provided additional guidance.

Key Points of the En Banc Decision:

  1. Knowledge of Prohibited Status: The government need not prove that Minor knew his knowing possession was a crime. It only needs to establish that he knew he possessed a firearm and, at that time, knew he belonged to the category of persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of violence.
  2. Understanding Prior Offense: To prove this knowledge, the government is not required to show that Minor knew his prior offense was labeled a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." Instead, the court can instruct the jury that Minor must have known he was previously convicted of an offense classified as a misdemeanor, involving the use of physical force with the victim being his current or former spouse.
  3. Definition of Physical Force: If requested by either party, the district court should explain that the use of physical force means intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person.

Impact on Minor's Case

Due to the jury instructions' failure to align with the clarified mens rea requirements, the First Circuit once again vacated Minor's convictions under 924(a)(2) and 922(g)(9), ordering a new trial. The First Circuit's en banc decision in Minor's case underscores the importance of clarifying the knowing element in 18 U.S.C. 922(g) cases. This ruling not only impacts Minor's situation but sets a precedent for future cases, providing guidance on the mens rea requirements and ensuring a fair consideration of Second Amendment rights in firearm challenges.

Fifth Circuit Ruling: Daniels' Victory in Second Amendment Challenge

In a recent decision, the Fifth Circuit (No. 22-60596) handed down a significant victory in the case of Daniels, challenging the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3). This article breaks down the case, exploring how the court, post-Bruen, scrutinized the firearm possession charge against Daniels, marking a noteworthy moment in Second Amendment rights and firearm challenges.

In April 2022, Daniels found himself in legal trouble after being pulled over for driving without a license plate. A subsequent search by a DEA agent revealed marijuana-related items and firearms in his vehicle. Charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), Daniels faced allegations of illegal firearm possession as an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance."

Legal Landscape Post-Bruen

Bruen, a landmark Supreme Court decision, clarified that firearm regulations must align with the nation's historical traditions. Capitalizing on Bruen, Daniels moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that 922(g)(3) was unconstitutional.

Despite Daniels' motion, the district court denied it, leading to his conviction. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Daniels continued his Second Amendment challenge.

Fifth Circuit's Analysis

The court initiated its discussion by confirming the application of the Second Amendment to Daniels, emphasizing that all members of the political community are covered, including marijuana users. The critical question became whether 922(g)(3) had roots in the nation's history and tradition of gun regulation.

The court delved into historical perspectives, recognizing that the Founding generation was familiar with intoxication, marijuana plants, and hemp. However, it underscored the absence of familiarity with the modern drug trade. The government, according to the court, bore the burden of proving historical support for the constitutionality of 922(g)(3). The government presented three categories of analogues to justify the statute: statutes disarming intoxicated individuals, statutes disarming the mentally ill, and statutes disarming those adjudged dangerous or disloyal.

Court's Findings

In evaluating each category, the court found that historical traditions of disarming intoxicated persons were sparse and limited. It rejected comparisons between mental illness and drug use, highlighting the absence of evidence showing Daniels' impairment comparable to mental illness. Additionally, the court dismissed the notion that Daniels, a marijuana user, fell into a presumptively dangerous class of persons.

While emphasizing the narrowness of its decision, the Fifth Circuit declared that 922(g)(3) is not invalidated in all applications but, as applied to Daniels, lacked the historical support envisioned by the Founders. Consequently, the district court's judgment was reversed, and Daniels' indictment was dismissed.

The Fifth Circuit's ruling in Daniels' case signifies a significant step in safeguarding Second Amendment rights and challenging firearm regulations. The decision highlights the importance of historical analysis and sets a precedent for future cases, ensuring a measured and constitutionally aligned approach to firearm challenges.

Mississippi District Court Strikes Down 922(g) Felon in Possession Statute

In a groundbreaking legal development, the Mississippi District Court, under Judge Reeves, delivered a significant blow to the constitutionality of the Felon in Possession of a Weapon statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). This article simplifies the complexities of the case, highlighting the court's as-applied challenge and shedding light on the implications for Second Amendment rights and firearm challenges.

Bullock, previously convicted of Aggravated Assault and Manslaughter, found himself facing charges under 922(g)(1) in 2018. Having served over a decade in state prison, Bullock permanently lost his right to possess firearms. Charged at the age of 57, Bullock, unaware of the indictment, eventually challenged the constitutionality of the statute through an as-applied challenge, asserting that Bruen rendered 922(g)(1) unconstitutional in his case.

Legal Review

The court embarked on a comprehensive review of relevant legal precedents, including landmark cases like Miller, Heller, McDonald, and Kanter v. Barr. The court highlighted Bruen's modification of the legal standard for Second Amendment cases, emphasizing the government's obligation to demonstrate a law's consistency with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.

Crucial to Bullock's case was the court's scrutiny of the government's failure to provide historical evidence supporting the constitutionality of 922(g)(1). Despite a long list of cases upholding the statute, the court emphasized the absence of designated historians or amicus briefs discussing analogues to modern sentencing laws.

Bruen Test Application

Applying the Bruen test, the court asserted that the plain text of the Second Amendment covered Bullock's possession of firearms in his home. The government's failure to show a historical tradition supporting the permanent disarmament of individuals like Bullock became a pivotal point in the court's decision. The court debunked claims that other courts have used, highlighting the lack of a comprehensive historical narrative.

In a notable departure, Judge Reeves took aim at originalism, questioning its application to the Second Amendment while suggesting its absence in the interpretation of other constitutional rights. The court challenged the rush towards originalism in Second Amendment cases and hinted at its limited dominance in constitutional interpretation.

Landmark Decision

In a resounding conclusion, the court granted Bullock's motion to dismiss, deeming 922(g)(1) unconstitutional as applied to his case. This landmark decision challenges the prevailing narrative surrounding felon-in-possession laws and sets the stage for potential shifts in constitutional interpretation.

The Mississippi District Court's decision in Bullock's case marks a significant milestone in the ongoing discourse on Second Amendment rights and firearm challenges. With a keen focus on historical traditions and an as-applied challenge, the court's ruling adds a nuanced perspective to the constitutional landscape, opening avenues for further legal scrutiny in similar cases.

Landmark Second Amendment Decisions: Prince and Williams Cases

In two recent cases, United States v. Prince and Williams v. Garland, significant legal strides were made in reevaluating firearm regulations in light of Second Amendment rights. This article explores the outcomes of these cases, shedding light on the courts' interpretations and their implications for individuals charged under 18 USC 922(g).

United States v. Prince

Prince faced allegations of robbing three individuals at gunpoint on a Chicago transit authority train. The subsequent charge of unlawful possession of a firearm under 18 USC 922(g) stemmed from Prince's previous felony conviction. In a strategic move, Prince moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting a violation of his Second Amendment rights in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Bruen (142 S.Ct. 2111, 2022) and Seventh Circuit case law.

Bruen Framework

The Bruen decision provided a framework for assessing the constitutionality of firearm regulations. It introduced two avenues of inquiry: a historical examination and an analogy-based approach. The court must identify a historical regulation addressing a persisting societal problem or find historical analogies to assess the legitimacy of the challenged regulation.

The court, applying the Bruen framework, concluded that 922(g)(1) placed an excessive burden on the right to bear arms. Contrary to the government's arguments, the court ruled that Bruen did not limit Second Amendment protection to law-abiding citizens, emphasizing that "the people" in the Second Amendment included those with prior felony convictions. The court also found the government's historical analogues insufficient, deeming them unjustified and overly burdensome on the right to bear arms. Consequently, Prince's indictment was dismissed, prompting the government to file an appeal.

Williams v. Garland

In another notable case, Williams challenged the constitutionality of 18 USC 922(g)(2) after being convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania. His suit sought relief from potential future charges under 922(g). Both parties filed for summary judgment, contending that no factual issues existed, and victory should be determined as a matter of law.

Court's Ruling

The court, echoing the sentiment in Prince, emphasized that the Second Amendment protected all individuals, not just law-abiding citizens. It declared 18 USC 922(g)(2) inconsistent with the nation's history of firearm regulation as applied to Williams. The court highlighted the absence of historical regulations justifying permanent disarmament for DUI convictions, ultimately granting Williams' motion for summary judgment.

These landmark decisions in Prince and Williams signify a reevaluation of firearm regulations. There is an emphasis on the broad scope of Second Amendment protection. As courts delve into historical analyses and challenge the government's assertions, these cases set a precedent for future legal battles.  They may provide hope for those facing charges under 18 USC 922(g).

Jeremy’s Notes:

These cases, while limited to specific individuals, signify a potential shift in legal perspectives. It's crucial to understand that these victories don't grant everyone immediate access to court motions. However, they hint at changing tides in legal interpretations, a development worth monitoring as these cases progress through the courts.

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
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