Category Archives: Constitutional Law

Third Circuit Holds That Recording Police In Public Is Protected By The First Amendment

Today, in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, et al., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals joined five other circuit courts in holding that the 1st Amendment protects the public recording of police officers.

As stated in the decision, the background is somewhat simplistic – Mr. Field and a Mrs. Geraci attempted to record “Philadelphia police officers carrying out officia duties in public and were retaliated against even though the Philadelphia Police Departments official policies recognized that ‘[p]rivate individuals have a First Amendment right to observe and record police officers engage in the public discharge of their duties’.”

In discussing the First Amendment, the court explained that

The First Amendment protects the public’s right of access to information about their officials’ public activities. It “goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”

The court therefore went on to hold

Accordingly, recording police activity in public falls squarely within the First Amendment right of access to information.

More interestingly, the court properly noted that

Civilian video also fills the gaps created when police choose not to record video or withhold their footage from the public.

And that

the proliferation of bystander videos has “spurred action at all levels of government to address police misconduct and to protect civil rights.”

However, the court cautioned that it was not holding that all recording is protected or desirable. Specifically, the court declared that

[I]t is subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

Unfortunately, because the court found that one’s First Amendment protections in recording the police had not been sufficiently established at the time of the officers conduct, it granted them qualified immunity. However, any officers that violate someone’s right to record the police in public, due to the decision, will no longer be able to claim qualified immunity, because now it has been established.

If you or anyone you know has been subjected to criminal charging, retaliation or harassment as a result of recording the police in public, contact us to discuss YOUR rights.

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Superior Court Holds That Switchblades Are Not Protected By The Second Amendment

Yesterday, in a very short non-precedential opinion, a three judge panel of the Superior Court held in Commonwealth v. William Battle that a switchblade is not protected by the Second Amendment.

As discussed in the decision, there is no dispute that upon entering the Pike County Administrative Building, Mr. Battle emptied his pockets, including a switchbade knife, at the metal detectors and was thereafter arrested. The sole issue that he raised on appeal was: “Whether the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, in prohibiting the possession of automatic knives, violates the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution?” Interestingly, it does not appear that an argument was raised in relation to Article 1, Section 21, although I cannot honestly state that I believe the outcome would have been any different.

In the 5 page decision, for which the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent Second Amendment holding Caetano v. Massachusetts is not mentioned (and causes me to wonder whether Mr. Battle’s public defender addressed it- UPDATE: Battle’s attorney Jason Ohliger confirmed below in the comments that he did raise it and it was central to his argument), the Superior Court declares that “Appellant’s reliance on Heller is misplaced, as offensive weapons are not covered by the constitutional right to bear arms.”

In what can only be described as a twisted form of logic to support its conclusion, the court states that since switchblades “are not possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” they are considered dangerous and unusual weapons. Thus, by the mere fact that the General Assembly declared them unlawful – thereby preventing individuals from lawfully possessing switchblades – the court contends that switchblades are not possessed by law-abiding individuals. Does that make your head hurt? Cause it does mine.

In essence, if the court’s logic was correct, then D.C.’s ban that was struck down in Heller as unconstitutional, should have been declared constitutional, since it was unlawful for any law-abiding individual to possess an operable firearm in his/her home in D.C. Also lost on the court is the fact that only 15 states ban switchblades, with the remaining finding that they do have a common lawful purpose. Unfortunately, I doubt this was brought to the court’s attention. UPDATE: Contrary to my assumption, Battle’s attorney Jason Ohliger confirmed below in the comments that he reviewed which states permit vs. which states do not permit switchblades.

The only saving grace is that this decision was a non-precedential decision by a three judge panel. Pursuant to the Superior Court’s Internal Operating Procedure 65.37:

An unpublished memorandum decision shall not be relied upon or cited by a Court or a party in any other action or proceeding, except that such a memorandum decision may be relied upon or cited (1) when it is relevant under the doctrine of law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel, and (2) when the memorandum is relevant to a criminal action or proceeding because it recites issues raised and reasons for a decision affecting the same defendant in a prior action or proceeding. When an unpublished memorandum is relied upon pursuant to this rule, a copy of the memorandum must be furnished to the other party to the Court.

If you have been charged with carrying a switchblade, contact us today to discuss your legal options.

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Franklin County Sheriff Contends He’s Immune From Judicial Oversight

In a brief filed before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Franklin County Sheriff has taken an eerily Orwellian position that he is immune from judicial oversight and cannot be held liable for his actions – even those explicitly violating state law.

As our viewers are aware, on May 20, 2016, the Commonwealth Court issued a monumental decision in  John Doe, et al., v. Franklin County, et al., 1634 C.D. 2015 regarding the confidentiality of license to carry firearms (LTCF) applicant information, wherein, among other things, it held that the disclosure of LTCF applicant information through the use of un-enveloped postcards was a breach of the confidentiality provision found in 18 Pa.C.S. 6111(i).

As a result, Franklin County, former Franklin County Sheriff Dane Anthony, and the other defendants, appealed the decision to the PA Supreme Court, where they asked the Court to grant review of the entire Commonwealth Court’s decision, including as to whether the use of un-enveloped postcards constituted a public disclosure. On December 21, 2016, the PA Supreme Court generally denied their request to review the decision; however, it agreed to consider “[w]hether the General Assembly intended to abrogate high public official immunity when it enacted 18 Pa. C.S. §6111(i)” in relation to Defendant former Franklin Co Sheriff Dane Anthony.

On January 30, 2017, the Defendants filed their brief contending that former Sheriff Dane Anthony is entitled to high public official immunity and that sheriffs “should not be burdened with monstrous litigation and damage exposure about possible incidental viewing of a postcard years ago.” More disconcerting, they argue that the Commonwealth Court’s decision “threatens to gut absolute immunity for public officials into no real protection at all.” (Of course, as discussed below, they seem to ignore the fact that high public official immunity was seemingly abolished by the PA Supreme Court in the 1970’s and even if it wasn’t, it is unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution). However, it is their main argument that is absolutely Orwellian:

statements or acts of high public officials which are made in the course of and within the scope of their official powers or duties give them complete immunity from legal redress. (emphasis added)

It would seem that this position goes directly contrary to the oath declared, pursuant to Article VI, Section 3, by all Sheriffs in Pennsylvania, especially in light of Article 1, Section 11. The oath set-forth in Article VI declares:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.

Contrary to the oath, the Sheriff’s position is directly in conflict with Article 1, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which declares that “[s]uits may be brought against the Commonwealth in such manner, in such courts and in such cases as the Legislature may by law direct,” since high public official immunity is common law (e.g. judicially created) and has never been enacted by the General Assembly. (For those reviewing the docket, as Franklin County, et al., failed to timely submit their reproduced record, they were required to petition the Court to allow them to untimely file their reproduced record, which the Court granted).

Surprisingly, the PA Sheriff’s Association filed an Amicus Curiae brief contending that sheriffs in Pennsylvania should be entitled to high public official immunity and immune from judicial review.

In response, on February 2, 2017, we filed our brief explaining that (1) high public official immunity was seemingly abolished by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision Ayala v. Phila. Bd. of Pub. Educ., where it abolished governmental immunity; (2) high public official immunity is inapplicable to 18 Pa.C.S. 6111; and (3) high public official immunity is unconstitutional.

Yesterday, the Defendants filed their reply brief , which appears to be designed to merely confuse the Justices into believing they actually have an argument.

The Court will now decide whether to hold oral argument on the matter or merely issue a decision based on the briefs. We’ll keep you apprised of further action in this matter.

If you or someone you know has had their confidential license to carry firearms applicant information disclosed, contact us today to discuss today to discuss YOUR rights. Dedicated to the protection of your Second Amendment and Article 1, Section 21 rights, we are YOUR PA Firearms Lawyers.

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The Second Amendment: Enforcing the Heller Decision

While at a conference last week I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion entitled:  “The Second Amendment:  Enforcing the Heller Decision.”  A panel that included voices from across the political spectrum engaged in a give-and-take that well summarized developments in recent years.  The discussion was recorded and you can view it here.  I was quite pleased to have an opportunity to ask the panel to address the “as applied” challenges of the kind that Firearms Industry Consulting Group has helped to spearhead, and to find broad consensus on the panel for expanding the favorable case law through careful presentation of such cases.

My colleague, Josh Prince, has blogged much more extensively about the “as applied” challenges both with regard to non-violent, non-felony convictions as well as with regard to isolated encounters with the mental health establishment.  FICG has had success with such challenges.

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Numerous Verified Reports of Voting Machine Issues in Pennsylvania

As some of you are aware, I am serving in Berks County as a Poll Watcher. Prior to today, I had little concern over the voting machines used by Pennsylvania, as they are 30+ years old and not connected to the internet. However, today my concern has changed.

I have seen numerous verified reports from across the Commonwealth of voting machines specifying the Democratic candidates, when an individual has selected the straight Republican candidates button. This has been a confirmed issue in Lebanon County, as reported by PennLive – Voting Machine Error that Showed Republicans Voting Democrat Fixed. There is also the report from the Schuylkill County Republican Committee of the same thing:

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I also have a report from Berks County – Muhlenberg 10th, that the same issue was occurring. There are also reports from Exeter, identical in nature.

While currently all information is supporting that votes cast for the candidates specified by the light next to his/her name is being correctly recorded, it is questionable of whether that information can be definitively known at this time, given the way in which the data is recorded in these machines.

Accordingly, any voter should specify the individual candidates that he/she desires to vote for and not click the button to vote straight party.

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6th Circuit Acknowledges Second Amendment As-Applied Challenges To Mental Health Commitments

As our readers are aware, in July, I was successful in arguing in Keyes, et al. v. Lynch, et al., before the Middle District of Pennsylvania that a life long prohibition on an individual as a result of a single, isolated mental health commitment violated his Second Amendment rights, as-applied to him. Today, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision in Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Dept., et al., acknowledging the same.

The 6th Circuit agreed with an argument that I made in Keyes that the Heller Court’s pronouncement that it was not casting doubt on the ability of the Congress to limit possession of firearms to “the mentally ill” was specific to those who are currently mentally ill, as opposed to those who might, at one time, have a bout of depression or decompression.

As the U.S. Government has now appealed Keyes to the Third Circuit, even after the Binderup/Suarez decision, we expect that the Third Circuit will rule identically to the 6th Circuit and affirm the Middle District’s decision.

If you are prohibited under federal law as a result of a mental health commitment, contact us today to discuss your options. Together, we can fight for your inalienable right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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US Supreme Court Decision Affects Firearms Rights – Ability to Obtain Relief from Certain DUIs!

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that case of Birchfield v. North Dakota, 14-1468, in which the Court held that while implied consent laws relative to driving under the influence (DUI) may impose civil penalties, it is unconstitutional for them to impose criminal penalties for refusing to consent.

Specifically, as the Syllabus to the decision declares:

Motorists may not be criminally punished for refusing to submit to a blood test based on legally implied consent to submit to them. It is one thing to approve implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply, but quite another for a State to insist upon an intrusive blood test and then to impose criminal penalties on refusal to submit. There must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may be deemed to have consented by virtue of a decision to drive on public roads. Pg 36-37

So how does this affect your firearm rights?

Under Pennsylvania law, if an individual refuses his/her consent relative to a second (or third) DUI, the criminal grading becomes a misdemeanor of the 1st degree, which is federally prohibiting for purposes of purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition. I previously blogged about a similar situation in Pennsylvania, when the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided Musau. Unfortunately, as a result of the Superior Court’s decision, the General Assembly amended the statute, so that anyone who refused consent on a second (or third) DUI would be penalized by a misdemeanor of the first degree, instead of an ungraded misdemeanor (which would not be prohibiting under state or federal law).

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield, those individuals in Pennsylvania who have been convicted or pled guilty to a misdemeanor of the first degree as a result of a second (or third) DUI, due to their refusal to consent, have been subjected to an unlawful sentence and have a limited opportunity to file for relief under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).

Therefore, if you or a family member were convicted of a second or third DUI, where you refused to submit to chemical testing, contact us immediately, as you have the ability to petition the court to have your conviction properly reflect the grading as an ungraded misdemeanor, which would not trigger a state or federal firearms disability.

As Federal Firearms Relief is not currently available and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons does not with any frequency grant pardons to those who have been convicted of repeat offenses, this may be your ONLY extremely limited opportunity to obtain relief!

Contact Us Today to Discuss YOUR Rights and How We Can Restore Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms – info@princelaw.com or 888-313-0416

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