Sunday, March 10, 2024

CA: Failure to Recognize Vacated Convictions or Restored Rights Violates the Consitution (Linton v Bonta)

On February 28, 2024, US District Judge for the Northern District of California granted summary judgement to three individuals whose Second Amendment rights were unconstitutionally violated by the State of California. The case began over five years ago.

On December 20, 2018, the case of Linton v Bonta (originally Linton v Becerra, the California AG at the time) was filed.  Individual plaintiffs and several organizations, including Calguns, Firearms Policy Foundation, Madison Society Foundation, and SAF sued the state of California for flagrantly denying the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the legal judgments of other states, the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, and the Fourteenth Amendment. From the lawsuit:

The question presented by this case is whether the State of California, through its chief law enforcement officers, can prevent current California residents who are not federally or otherwise prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms if their previously-disqualifying offenses, which occurred in other states,have been vacated, and especially when their fundamental, individual rights have been fully restored to them by courts of competent jurisdiction in those respective states. Asked differently: In their zeal to prohibit as many citizens from owning firearms as possible, may this State, its chief law enforcement officer, and those responsible for the enforcement of California’s firearms laws and policies, ignore the judgments and pronouncements of the courts of other states because they do not prefer the policy outcome? The only honest,constitutionally-grounded answer to these questions must be a resounding ‘no’.

On March 5, 2021, the case was stayed and administratively closed, because of pending ajudication of the Duncan v Becerra case. When the Supreme Court issued the decision in Bruen, on June 22, 2022, the elaborate structure erected by the Ninth Circuit to gut the Second Amendment was abolished.  A motion to lift the stay was filed on June 28, 2022. From the motion:

Good cause exists to lift the stay in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, --- S. Ct. ---, No. 20-843, 2022 WL 2251305 (June 23, 2022) (“Bruen”), in which the Court has restated the standard to be used in Second Amendment cases. Going forward, means-end scrutiny analyses are no longer permissible in Second Amendment claims, and instead, the courts are to consider the Second Amendment’s text, “as informed by history,” and tradition.

The stay on the case was lifted on June 30, 2022. On February 28, 2024, Judge Donato issued an order of summary judgement against the defendants (State of California). From the Order:

California Penal Code Section 29800 prohibits individuals who have been convicted of felonies from owning or possessing firearms. Plaintiffs Chad Linton, Paul McKinley Stewart, and Kendall Jones were convicted of felonies in other states several decades ago. None of the convictions involved a weapon, drugs, or violence, in the ordinary meaning of the word. Each of the plaintiffs had their conviction vacated, set aside,or dismissed, and their right to possess firearms restored, by the jurisdiction in which they were convicted. Linton legally acquired firearms in California on prior occasions, and Jones was a career law enforcement officer in California with special training and certification as a firearms instructor. Even so, California has acted to permanently deny Linton, Stewart, and Jones the right to possess or own firearms, solely on the basis of their original convictions. 

Plaintiffs ask for summary judgment on the grounds that California has violated (1) the Second Amendment, (2) the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and (3) the right to travel protected by Article IV and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. See Dkt. No.62-1. These are as-applied challenges, and plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for themselves individually. Id. at 1.

After multiple hearings and several rounds of briefing, and in light of the guidance provided by New York State Rifle& Pistol Association, Inc.v. Bruen, 597 U.S. 1(2022), the Court concludes that California has violated the Second Amendment rights of the individual plaintiffs. Consequently, summary judgment is granted in favor of Linton, Stewart, and Jones on their as-applied Second Amendment claim. The Court need not reach plaintiffs’ other constitutional claims.

It is not known if the State of California will appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit. 

Analysis: This case is on "as applied" claims, therefore it only applies to the three individual plaintiffs, Linton, Stewart, and Jones. The decision is significant because Judge Donato has ruled California must recognize the right of people who live outside of California to exercise their Second Amendment rights inside of California. Donato ruled non-violent felonies are not sufficient to deny someone their Second Amendment rights, especially if they occurred decades ago, and the person has been a "law abiding citizen" since then. California must take the legal actions of other states into account when determining if a persons Second Amendment rights can be taken away. 

Judge Donato did not consider the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and the right to travel. Those issues are percolating just below the surface of Second Amendment federal cases. It is difficult to see how one state can nullify the Second Amendment for people who travel to that state from other states.  One state court, in Massachusetts, ruled a Massachusetts law cannot invalidate the Second Amendment rights of individuals from another state. The case was not appealed, and so is not available as precedent in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court has ruled the Second Amendment is not a second class right.  The right of people from outside a state to exercise Second Amendment rights inside a state will eventually be before federal courts.

©2024 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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