Tag Archives: involuntary commitment

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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PRESS RELEASE: Monumental Mental Health Second Amendment As-Applied Challenge Success

We are extremely proud to announce that Attorney Joshua Prince was successful in a second Second Amendment as-applied challenge in relation to a prior mental health commitment.

As our viewers are likely aware from Attorney Prince’s blog article Monumental Decision from the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania Regarding Mental Health Commitments and the Second Amendment, over a year and three months ago, Attorney Prince was successful in obtaining relief for Mr. Yox, who had previously been involuntarily committed as a juvenile but later went on to honorably serve in our Armed Forces and later as a state correctional officer. Under federal law, Mr. Yox was permitted to possess a firearm and ammunition in his official capacity as a law enforcement officer, but was precluded from possessing a firearm and ammunition in his private capacity. In fact, in providing relief to Mr. Yox, the court declared:

Indeed, Mr. Yox provides the perfect test case to challenge § 922(g)(4), as the illogical contradiction of being able to possess firearms in his professional capacities but not being able to possess a firearm for protection in his own home puts in relief a factual scenario where an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to this statute may succeed.

Indeed, if Mr. Yox were not to succeed on his as-applied challenge, we cannot imagine that there exists any person who could.

Unfortunately, the court had previously dismissed his co-plaintiff’s (Mr. Keyes’) identical arguments on the basis that the Pennsylvania Superior Court had already considered his Second Amendment challenge and found against him in In re Keyes. After rendering its decision on Plaintiff Yox’s claims, Mr. Keyes filed a request for the court to reconsider its prior ruling and arguing that it would be a manifest injustice if the court were deny him relief based on the faulty decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

On October 4, 2016, Judge John E. Jones, III. overturned his prior holding finding that Mr. Keyes’ Second Amendment as-applied claim was barred and declared that Mr. Keyes “is in a materially identical situation” to Mr. Yox and that denying Keyes, while granting relief to Mr. Yox, would seem to constitute an “inequitable administration of the law” and “manifest injustice.”Judge Jones specifically declared in finding that the Pennsylvania Superior Court incorrectly analyzed his prior Second Amendment challenge:

The result is that Keyes is left behind while his co-Plaintiff receives full relief simply because Keyes pursued his Second Amendment claims in what turned out to be the wrong court. He is left with no recourse to receive vindication of his constitutional right to bear arms, even though this Court has, for all material purposes, made clear that his claim has full merit. This is a grossly unfair and inequitable result.

Judge Jones went on to state that “[w]e would be hard pressed to think of a better example of an inequitable administration of the laws, and it is a circumstance that cries out to be rectified.”

Thereafter, extensive discovery ensued and the Government and Mr. Keyes filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Yesterday, in an initially sealed memorandum (which was unsealed today with the consent of Mr. Keyes), Judge Jones, after providing a substantial and substantive analysis of the law and evidence of record, declared:

We have been presented with no evidence to indicate that disarming those who went through a period of mental illness and suicide attempts over a decade ago and who have regularly carried firearms in their professional capacity since that time reasonably fits within the governmental interest to promote safety. As such, 18 U.S.C. § 924(g)(4) cannot withstand intermediate scrutiny in the face of Keyes’ as-applied challenge. Enforcement of the statute against Keyes therefore violates his right to keep and bear arms – a right guaranteed to him by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

More importantly, telling of Judge Jones’ character and being an ardent defender of constitutional rights, he further declared:

We freely acknowledge our mindfulness of the fact that this decision is rendered in a time when our country appears awash in gun violence. Given the tenor of the times, it would be easy and indeed alluring to conclude that Plaintiff lacks any recourse. But to do so would be an abdication of this Court’s responsibility to carefully apply precedent, even when, as here, it is less than clear. Our jurisprudence and the unique facts presented guide us to the inescapable conclusion that if the Second Amendment is to mean anything, and it is beyond peradventure that it does, Plaintiff is entitled to relief.

Please join us in congratulating Attorney Prince for this monumental victory, as well as, Judge Jones for ensuring that for every wrong committed, the court has the power to correct it.

If you or someone you know has been involuntarily committed and is now prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition, contact us today to discuss your options.

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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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U.S. Government to Withdraw Appeal in Second Amendment As-Applied Challenge Relating to a Mental Health Commitment

As our viewers are aware, I was previously successful in establishing a right to relief in a Second Amendment as-applied challenge involving a mental health commitment – Monumental Decision from the Middle District of Pennsylvania Regarding Mental Health Commitments and the Second Amendment. Thereafter, the U.S. Government filed an appeal to the Third Circuit Court, where the case is currently pending briefing.

Today, the U.S. Government filed a notice with the Third Circuit that the Acting Solicitor General has elected not to sustain the appeal and the Government will be seeking to withdraw the matter in 30 days, as the Government must provide the U.S. Congress with 30 days notice, for the U.S. Congress to intervene if it sees fit. A copy of the letter sent to Speaker Paul Ryan can be downloaded here.

Accordingly, it appears that in 30 days, the appeal will be withdrawn and the only remaining issue will be the attorney fees and costs to be assessed against the Government.

If you have been denied your inalienable right to Keep and Bear Arms as the result of a mental health commitment or non-violent misdemeanor offense, contact us today to discuss your options. Together, we can vindicate YOUR rights!

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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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