Tag Archives: 302

York County Magistrate Judge Dismisses Charges of Making False Statements in Relation to Prior Putative Mental Health Commitment

Today, Attorney Eric Winter successfully argued for dismissal of charges before a York County Magistrate Judge. The charges were filed by the York County Sheriff in relation to a putative false statement our client made when applying for a license to carry firearms (“LTCF”).

In arguing that our client had not been committed to a mental institution, Attorney Winter argued that the recent decision by Federal District Court Judge Kim Gibson precluded any finding that our client had been involuntarily committed, regardless of any 302 commitment. Specifically, in Franklin v. Sessions, et al., Judge Gibson found that a Section 302 commitment under the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Procedures Act was not sufficient to trigger a federal disability.

After dismissing the charges, the Magistrate Judge asked the York County Sergeant who had filed the charges as to whether the “other cases, merely based on a 302 commitment, would be dismissed.” To our astonishment, the Sergeant replied that the charges filed against the other individuals would not be dismissed, as not everyone has a lawyer to defend against the charges. Thankfully, the Magistrate Judge stated that such was unfortunate, since he, as both an attorney and judge, was ethically bound to equally apply the law and that the established law precluded any individual from being charged for making false statement in relation to a 302 commitment. He went on to say that any charges filed against individuals for allegedly making false statements in relation solely to a 302 commitment would be dismissed.

Please join us in congratulating Attorney Winter and the Magistrate Judge in York County for ensuring that our constitutional rights are never infringed!

If you or someone you know has been involuntarily committed and are either under charges for making false statement or are now prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition, 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.

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MONUMENTAL DECISION – Federal Court Rules a Pennsylvania 302 Mental Health Commitment Insufficient to Trigger a Disability under Section 922(g)(4)

We are extremely proud to announce that today Attorney Joshua Prince was successful in having Federal District Court Judge Kim Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania rule that an involuntary commitment under Section 302 of Pennsylvania’s Mental Health and Procedures Act (“MHPA”) is insufficient to trigger a federal firearms and ammunition disability under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).

For those unaware, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) provides

It shall be unlawful for any person–

(4) who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution;

to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

Section 302 of the MHPA permits a physician to involuntarily commit an individual in the absence of any form of due process (i.e. the individual is not provided an attorney, the ability to confront or present witnesses, the ability to challenge or submit evidence, or provided any other requisites of due process).

As a result of a single, isolated 302 commitment, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took the position that Mr. Franklin was federally prohibited from possessing and purchasing firearms and ammunition. As a result, he brought a challenge in federal court challenging, inter alia, whether a 302 commitment was sufficient to trigger a prohibition under Section 922(g)(4) and if so, argued that it would be unconstitutional to deny him in perpetuity his Second Amendment rights, as applied to him. As our viewers are aware, Attorney Prince has won two previous Second Amendment as-applied challenges to mental health commitments.

Judge Gibson in reviewing whether Mr. Franklin was “adjudicated as a mental defective” found that the

procedures provided for by Section 302 of the MHPA and that were applied to Mr. Franklin scarcely constitute an ‘adjudication’. The plain meaning of “adjudicated” connotes the involvement of a judicial decision-maker, the resolution of a dispute after consideration of argument by the parties involved, and a deliberative proceeding with some form of due process….Notably, courts, boards, and commissions all function in a neutral judicial or quasi-judicial role, therein greatly differing from the ex parte, non-judicial procedures and non-judicial actors provided for by Section 302 of the MHPA.

The court continued on

Thus, because Mr. Franklin was not “adjudicated as a mental defective” by a court, board, or commission, Section 922(g)( 4) does not provide for a restriction of Mr. Franklin’s ability to own a firearm based on a determination by one of these three “adjudicators.”…Interpreting Section 922(g)( 4) such that individual physicians and other non-neutral actors have lawful authority to wholly strip a person of their ability to a possess a firearm in perpetuity based on a non-adversarial, ex parte decision would raise serious constitutional concerns with the statute, which
the canon of constitutional avoidance requires the Court to avoid if possible

Judge Gibson then turned to whether Mr. Franklin was “committed to a mental institution” and in finding that he was not committed to a mental institution, held that a prohibition under Section 922(g)(4) “presupposes a formal commitment decision by a ‘court, board, commission, or other lawful authority’.” Most importantly,  Judge Gibson declared

By its own terms and effect, Section 302 of the MHPA does not provide for a commitment to a mental institution as defined by 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, nor did Mr. Franklin undergo a commitment to a mental institution for the purposes of Section 922(g)(4).

In deferring to decide Mr. Franklin’s Second and Fifth Amendment claims on the basis of the constitutional avoidance doctrine and resolution of the issue absent review of the constitutional implications, Judge Gibson declared that

the Court cannot deny the serious constitutional doubts raised by the parties’ arguments in the instant matter-both in regard to due process rights of the Fifth Amendment and the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The arguments raised in the parties’ briefs, a “fractured vote” by the Third Circuit on a related issue, and recent, disparate decisions by other district courts within the Third Circuit amply demonstrate the seriousness of these constitutional concerns and the appropriateness of constitutional avoidance when a reasonable interpretation of Section 922(g)( 4) avoids consideration of those weighty constitutional issues.

In concluding the decision, Judge Gibson holds

Although the provisions of Section 302 of the MHPA may be sufficient to justify an involuntary emergency examination and treatment, the Court is not persuaded that these non-adversarial, ex parte procedures without notice, a hearing, the opportunity to present evidence, or a judicial or quasi-judicial actor constitute an “adjudication” for the purposes of Section 902(g)(4), nor that a 120-hour-maximum “involuntary emergency examination and treatment” constitutes a “commitment to a mental institution.”

Please join us in congratulating Attorney Prince for this monumental victory!

If you or someone you know has been involuntarily committed and is now prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition, 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.

 

 

 

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Devastating Decision Regarding Mental Health Commitment Challenges and Firearms Rights

Late last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision in In re: Nancy White Vencil, 90 MAP 2015, which overturned the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s learned decision finding that a challenge, pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111(g)(2), to the sufficiency of an involuntary commitment was to be de novo, supported by clear and convincing evidence, where the burden was, in essence, to rest with the Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, the PA Supreme Court vacated the decision as it concluded that the Superior Court erred since, in its opinion

the plain language of section 6111.1(g)(2) requires a court of common pleas to review only the sufficiency of the evidence to support the 302 commitment, limited to the information available to the physician at the time he or she made the decision to commit the individual, viewed in the light most favorable to the physician as the original decision-maker to determine whether his or her findings are supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

Although the Court acknowledged that “By legislative design, there is no judicial involvement in the decision to effectuate a 302 commitment and no right to appeal the physician’s decision” and therefore affords no due process (an issue which Mrs. Vencil apparently failed to raise (pdf pg. 18 (declaring “Vencil has not challenged the due process protections provided by Section 302 of the MHPA. Nor has she raised a due process argument in connection with her right to keep and bear arms under the United States and/or Pennsylvania Constitutions)), the Court declared that a trial court is only

to review the physician’s findings, made at the time of the commitment, to determine whether the evidence known by the physician at the time, as contained in the contemporaneously-created records, supports the conclusion that the individual required commitment under one (or more) of the specific, statutorily-defined circumstances.

Interestingly, the Court did not address the sufficiency/review of the requisite records for an involuntary commitment, pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7302 and the implementing regulations. This is likely due to this issue not having been raised and therefore was not considered by the Court.

The Court went on to declare that

The Legislature could have broadly created an appeals process under the MHPA for 302 commitments, but it did not; it could have required a de novo hearing but it did not. Instead, it narrowly provided that under 6111(g)(2) of the Uniform Firearms Act, a petitioner is entitled only to have a trial court review the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the commitment was based.

It is also important to note that the Court recognized in fn. 4 (pdf pg. 7) that the Pennsylvania State Police waived any consideration of the statute of limitations. The Court’s acknowledgment of is somewhat concerning as a specific of statute of limitations has not been enacted by the General Assembly and the Court did not specify what the appropriate statute of limitation is for sufficiency challenges to civil mental health commitments.

It is for these reasons, including the lack of requisite due process, that it is imperative that the General Assembly enact a new law regarding mental health commitment appeals, in compliance with all dictates of due process.

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Commonwealth Court – Circumstantial Evidence of a Commitment is Sufficient to Strip an Individual of His/Her 2nd Amendment Rights

Yesterday, the Commonwealth Court issued a decision in PSP v. Slaughter, 858 C.D. 2015, where the court held that the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) can meet its burden, through circumstantial evidence, establishing that an individual is a prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms due a putative involuntary commitment.

While the factual background for this case was not the best, in essence and summed up succinctly, no Petition exists of Mr. Slaughter being involuntarily committed, pursuant to Section 302 of Pennsylvania’s Mental Health and Procedures Act (“MHPA”). However, an MHPA Section 303 Petition (next level of involuntary commitment) was lodged with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and reflects within it that Mr. Slaughter was previously committed under Section 302 of the MHPA. There was no dispute that a Section 302 Petition does not currently exist and the 303 Petition was later withdrawn, when Mr. Slaughter agreed to being voluntarily commitment, in lieu of being involuntarily committed pursuant to Section 303 of the MHPA.

Although 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(c)(4) declares that an individual is only prohibited if “the examining physician has issued a certification that inpatient care was necessary or that the person was committable” (which would only be specified on the 302 Petition), the court found that it was not necessary for the PSP to produce the 302 Petition and that the PSP could meet its burden through circumstantial evidence, such as the 303 Petition, which suggests that Mr. Slaughter was committed pursuant to Section 302, and other records that were obtained.

The court, in so holding, has determined that an individual’s fundamental right can be stripped through circumstantial evidence. Setting aside that no other fundamental right can be stripped of an individual in perpetuity, there is no existing precedent that a fundamental right can be stripped based merely on circumstantial evidence. In this regard, the court’s decision is extremely alarming. Can the PSP now establish that an individual is prohibited through the testimony of a vindictive spouse, who says the the individual was involuntarily committed, but for which, no commitment ever occurred?

As the court, in essence, disregarded the limitation specified within Section 6105(c)(4) by stating that the General Assembly never specifically stated that the actual certification must be produced, it clear that the MHPA and Uniform Firearms Act must be amended in relation to mental health issues. These types of decisions will have a detrimental effect in society, as those who may otherwise seek out treatment, will now be concerned about losing their fundamental rights by merely seeking out help and will therefore not seek necessary assistance. And, by not seeking help, those individuals may be more inclined to harm themselves or others. If we want to solve the mental health issues in the United States, we need to openly welcome those seeking assistance with all forms of mental health conditions, without any threat of the individual being stripped of their fundamental rights

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6th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules that an Involuntary Commitment is Insufficient for Stripping One of His/Her 2nd Amendment Rights

In a decision issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, the court found that it was unconstitutional to strip an individual of his 2nd Amendment rights when he had been involuntarily committed for less than a month after a devastating divorce some 28 years ago.

This is a major victory for 2nd Amendment litigation, as the 6th Circuit also found that strict scrutiny applies. These same issues I raised regarding Pennsylvania’s Mental Health and Procedures Act (MHPA) before the Superior Court in Keyes, but which the Superior Court rejected. This now provides support for invalidating state and federal firearm disabilities in the Commonwealth, as a result of an isolated involuntary mental health commitment.

If you are prohibited because of a mental health commitment and wish to discuss your options, contact us today by email or phone – 888-313-0416!

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