There has been much discussion about efforts taken in Virginia to restore the legal rights of convicted felons, including the right to vote as well as the right to possess firearms. Recently those rights in Maryland were explored by the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of James Hamilton v. William Pallozzi.
Hamilton pled guilty in 2006 to credit card fraud, theft and forgery. He received a 4-year suspended prison sentence and 4 years probation. In 2013 under a Virginia statute he had his rights to vote, hold public office and serve as a juror restored, and a Virginia court in 2014 restored his rights to own or possess firearms. The record showed Hamilton had registered as an armed security officer in Virginia, and was employed through a contractor as a Protective Security Officer with the Department of Homeland Security. He had no history of violent behavior and was married with three children.
Hamilton then moved to Maryland, and wanted to get a permit as required by Maryland law from the Maryland State Police to own a handgun, and obtain a long gun, for home protection. Maryland law prohibits possession of a firearm by anyone “convicted of a disqualifying crime,” and at least two of Hamilton’s convictions were disqualifying under the Maryland statute. Hamilton sued the Superintendent of the Maryland State Police, and the Maryland Attorney General challenging Maryland’s law as a violation of his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The district court judge dismissed the case, and that decision was upheld by the appellate court panel. The opinion first noted that the Supreme Court has held that prohibitions on possession of firearms by convicted felons are presumptively valid. To overcome that presumption in this case, Hamilton would have to show that he was a “law-abiding, responsible citizen.” The Court of Appeals found that the felony convictions clearly removed him from that category. Facts regarding rehabilitation, lack of likely recidivism or passage of time were not relevant, nor was the fact that Virginia had restored his firearm rights.
The Court found that Maryland was not required to allow a convicted felon to possess guns just because Virginia or DHS had determined he could, and that only by obtaining a full pardon of this crimes could he qualify under Maryland’s statute.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.