Thursday, October 3, 2013

Missouri Supreme Court Reverses in Gun Case

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a trial judge’s dismissal of charges against a man accused of violating the state’s prohibition on gun possession by convicted felons.
Arthel Ford Harris pleaded guilty in 2001 to a felony for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. He was arrested in 2011 for unlawfully possessing a .38-caliber revolver, and a St. Louis grand jury returned an indictment against him in 2012. But Missouri in 2001 only banned gun possession by people convicted of dangerous felonies, which did not include Harris’s conviction. The law was broadened in 2008 to cover all felonies. Possessing a gun as a felon is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
A trial judge in St. Louis dismissed the gun case against Harris, concluding it amounts to an ex post facto law when applied to him. A unanimous Missouri Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the trial court.
"ALL felonies" seems a bit excessive. I would exclude non-violent white collar crimes but include drug dealing convictions.

What do you think?


  1. "I would exclude non-violent white collar crimes but include drug dealing convictions."

    Can you explain why you would exclude dealing, even if it was nonviolent? Especially if the sale didn't result in an illegal act? (as in a dram shop violation)

    1. Especially since Mikeb seems sympathetic to legalizing marijuana, for example.

    2. I said "drug dealing" convictions because dealers often use guns improperly and unsafely.

  2. Sounds to me like the trial judge got it right in saying that this was an ex post facto punishment since the loss of rights was based on a law passed after the conviction. I guess he could try for an appeal to the US Supreme Court, though I doubt they would want to step in--especially since it would be so easy to decline the case rather than come to an agreement on jurisdiction, standing, etc. And all of that would be before they got around to whether or not to overturn existing precedent.

    We already have precedent on the books from the passage of the law forbidding possession by those with orders of protection and various domestic violence convictions (Lautenburg Amendment). The issue was people with convictions from before the law's passage who legally owned guns, but now were in violation. The standing precedent is that the ban gets around being an ex post facto law because it's "regulatory" and not "punitive"--legal weaseling if I've ever seen it.

    One could try to distinguish the case by saying that this law revokes rights as part of the rendering of a person as infamous, and that that is punitive, but that would be a long shot and is just layering weaseling on top of other layers of weaseling.

    It goes to show why it is a bad idea to quickly and emotionally pass and excuse laws. We all hate abusers, but by making the law cover past offenses and then allowing this because we can come up with an explanation (regulatory, not punitive) we set up precedent that gets used later.

    Now, someone with a white collar felony for taking too much cash with them and not declaring it is retroactively a prohibited person and the law will stand until a court overturns the precedent.

    Of course, this was foreseeable, but anyone opposing the Lautenberg Amendment at the time (and afterward) on this basis would have been portrayed, by y'all, as "favoring domestic abusers."

    This is how freedom gets corroded--we want to do something special to abusers, terrorists, or some other unsavory people nobody wants to be portrayed as defending, so we pass a law--maybe it retroactively bans guns for abusers, or maybe it violates due process by banning guns for suspected terrorists. When the law gets challenged, judges don't want to be "soft on abusers" or "soft on terrorists" so they come up with a way to justify the law. Then that precedent gets applied to others that we didn't all want to be covered under the original law.

  3. A question for you, Mike, since you keep saying that white collar criminals can keep their guns:

    Should they also keep their voting rights etc.?

    Why should many of these things be felonies?
    Picking up an Eagle feather?
    Planing the wood you bought from India rather than having it planed there?
    Failing to report that you're taking $10,000 dollars on your vacation rather than $9,000?

    I'm not asking why they should be crimes (though I think that would be a damn good question too) but why should they be felonies that render a person infamous, stick them in jail for more than a year, and cause them to lose rights like voting?