Congratulations to Scaringi Law Associate Attorney Robert M. Sakovich for a Win in the Commonwealth Court Vindicating Our Client's 2nd Amendment Rights!

Our client had been convicted of two offenses in the State of Maryland. The second offense carried a maximum sentence of 4 years at the time of conviction; subsequent to conviction, the State of Maryland amended the statutory maximum for that offense to 18 months. The problem offense for the purposes of the 2nd Amendment was the second offense. Because it originally had a sentence of more than two years, it constituted a disabling offense under federal law – meaning it prohibited our client from possessing a firearm under federal law. Later our client received an expungement in the State of Maryland for those two offenses.

We filed a petition in the trial court seeking restoration of our client’s right to possess, transfer, or control a firearm under Section 6105(d)(3) of the Firearms Act on the grounds that Congress had not appropriated sufficient funds to enable the Secretary of the Treasury to grant relief from our client’s federal firearms restriction and that more than 10 years had passed since he completed the sentences for his Maryland convictions. At trial the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) agreed with our position that our client was entitled to relief under Section 6105(d)(3) of the Firearms Act, and the trial court granted that relief.

However, we had also filed for relief under Section 6105.1(a) in which we requested a “restoration of firearms rights” because notwithstanding our client having been convicted of a “disabling offense,” which was the second offense described above, our client had not been convicted of a prohibited offense under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, had not committed prohibited conduct under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, and had not been convicted of any other state offenses classified as misdemeanors and punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding two years. The PSP opposed our request for relief under Section 6105.1(a).

“Disabling offense” is defined in Section 6105.1(e) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act as one “which (1) resulted in a federal firearms disability and is substantially similar to either an offense currently graded as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment for not more than two years or conduct which no longer constitutes a violation of law; and (2) was a violation of either of the following: (i) the former act of May 1, 1929 (P.L. 905, No. 403), known as The Vehicle Code, or the former act of April 29, 1959 (P.L. 58, No. 32), known as The Vehicle Code; or (ii) the former act of June 24, 1939 (P.L. 872, No. 375), known as the Penal Code.”

Section 6105.1(e) of the Uniform Firearms Act defines “Restoration of firearms rights” as “relieving any and all disabilities with respect to a person's right to own, possess, use, control, sell, purchase, transfer, manufacture, receive, ship or transport firearms, including any disabilities imposed pursuant to [the Firearms Act]. The phrase shall also means the restoration of the right to vote, to hold public office and to serve on a jury.

The trial court, over the objection of the PSP, granted our request for relief under Section 6105.1(a). The PSP then appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court; the PSP appealed only the grant of relief under Section 6105.1(a). The Superior Court transferred the case to the Commonwealth Court. The PSP asserted three grounds for appeal. The most important ground was its claim that the Maryland expungements did not relieve our client of his federal firearms disability. On October 30, 2023, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court decision, thus ruling in our favor, but on different grounds.

The Commonwealth Court observed that Section 6105.1(e)(1) excludes our client’s “Maryland crimes from the definition of ‘disabling offenses,’ but for the reason that they no longer impose a federal firearms disability. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105.1(e)(1). The applicable federal statute provides, in pertinent part, that ‘[a]ny conviction which has been expunged[] or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of [the Federal Gun Act] . . . .’ 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20). As stated above, Sutton's Maryland criminal records relating to both convictions have been expunged by orders of a Maryland court.” Sutton v. Pa. State Police, 2023 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 179, *10.

The PSP argued, at trial and in appellate briefs, that expunction is not the same in Pennsylvania as in Maryland, where records may be retained for certain law enforcement purposes following the automatic expungement of old convictions relating to possession of a controlled substance. The Commonwealth Court disagreed on the grounds that the distinction highlighted by the PSP does not relate to either rights to possess firearms or other civil rights such as voting, holding office, and serving on juries; the PSP, in a second oral argument before an en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court, agreed. Because it is Maryland law and not Pennsylvania law that governs what constitutes a "conviction" for purposes of a federal firearms restriction, and because the Commonwealth Court held that the expungement of our client’s convictions under Maryland law removed the existence of any conviction for purposes of a federal firearms restriction, “Therefore, we conclude that there was no conviction for purposes of a federal firearms disability, and thus, no restriction under Section 6105.1(a) of the Firearms Act remained to be lifted.” Id. *12.

If you have questions about your right to possess firearms or if you are disqualified or prohibited from possessing firearms and wish to learn whether you qualify to have your 2 nd Amendment rights restored, contact Scaringi Law at (717) 775-7195.

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