Addressing several issues of first impression, the Commonwealth Court on Wednesday issued a 20 page decision and entered a judgment of approximately $6,500.00 against the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) for erroneously denying an individual his right to keep and bear arms.
With eight pages of the decision addressing the factual and procedural background, the case is somewhat complex; however, stated succinctly, the individual applied for a firearm and was denied by the PSP. Although he submitted a Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) Challenge, where he provided the PSP with copies of the original charging documents reflecting that he had only been charged with and pled guilty to a summary offense, the PSP ignored the documentation and issued a final determination that he was prohibited. Thereafter, he retained Attorney Joshua Prince for an appeal to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. After the PSP received the appeal, which included copies of all the documents the individual originally submitted, the PSP called Attorney Prince to inform him that the PSP was overturning its decision but that they would not issue a letter confirming the reversal.
Thereafter, Attorney Prince filed a complaint against the PSP, pursuant to the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA), while the case proceeded before the Attorney General. The PSP would later stipulate, before the Attorney General, that the individual was not prohibited; however, the PSP opposed the CHRIA action and argue that (1) the PSP was entitled to sovereign immunity for any damages and (2) that the individual was foreclosed in bringing a CHRIA action, since he had filed an appeal to the Attorney General.
The Commonwealth Court, in response to the PSP’s assertion of sovereign immunity, declared that the
PSP did originally maintain incorrect criminal history record information with respect to Haron in violation of section 9111 of CHRIA, which wrongfully resulted in the denial of his constitutional right to purchase a firearm for a period of several months and required him to ultimately obtain counsel.
The court then went on to find
that the maintenance of incorrect criminal records resulting in an unwarranted denial of a constitutional right to purchase a firearm constitutes “aggrievement.” Because Haron was aggrieved, he is entitled to recover actual and real damages, consistent with section 9183(b)(2) of CHRIA, in the amount of $1,500.00, which represents the retainer fee that Haron was required to pay to obtain counsel to represent him [before the AG] in this matter. Additionally, Haron is entitled to reasonable costs of litigation and attorney fees.
In relation to the PSP’s second assertion that he was precluded in instituting and maintaining an action under CHRIA because he filed an appeal to the Attorney General, the court declared:
we do not believe that Haron’s initial choice to proceed under the UFA forecloses any potential relief under CHRIA. Indeed, the only relief available under the UFA appears to be correction of an individual’s criminal history records, whereas CHRIA provides other potential relief in the nature of an injunction and/or damages.
While the judgment is minuscule in relation to the deprivation of a constitutional right, we hope that this case will give the PSP pause in what has become its standard operating procedure to ignore documentation submitted by an unrepresented individual in a PICS Challenge and to force individuals to prove that they are not prohibited, when the burden rests with the PSP to prove that the individual is prohibited.
If your rights have been denied the purchase/transfer of a firearm or your rights violated by the PSP, contact Firearms Industry Consulting Group today to discuss YOUR rights and legal options.
Firearms Industry Consulting Group® (FICG®) is a registered trademark and division of Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., with rights and permissions granted to Prince Law Offices, P.C. to use in this article.