The Idaho Court of Appeals overturned a gun conviction in a case handled by Atkinson Law Office. Atkinson Law Office had filed a motion to dismiss in the case, and the trial court sided with the prosecution and denied the motion. The issue went up on appeal.
The Idaho Statesman and KTVB.com have both reported on it. (follow links for stories)
The opinion itself can be found on the Idaho Supreme Court’s Website.
It appears from reading the comments that some are confused as to exactly how the statute was confusing. The Idaho statute prohibits all Idaho felons convicted after July 1, 1991 from owning or possessing firearms. The Statute has a subsection that deals with out of state convictions, and it is very ambiguous to say the least. Here is the exact language of the statute:
“These individuals shall not have the right restored to ship, transport, possess or receive a firearm, in the same manner as an Idaho felon as provided in subsection (2) of this section”
Subsection (2) is the part of the Statute that prohibits all Idaho felons convicted after July 1, 1991 from owning or possession firearms. The ambiguity comes in deciphering what the legislature meant by the last part of the sentence. Did they mean that an out of state felon should be treated differently than an Idaho felon, or did they mean that an out of state felon should be treated exactly the same way as an Idaho felon? If there were no comma before ‘in the same manner’ then the State’s interpretation of the statute may make sense. But with the comma in place the Defendant’s position that out of state felon should be treated exactly the same as Idaho felons is more reasonable.
Either way it is a moot point. The Court held that the Defendant’s interpretation was correct, however even if they hadn’t, they would certainly have had to hold that the statute was ambiguous and neither side’s interpretation was the correct one. In that case the ‘Rule of Lenity’ would apply, and the Court would be compelled to rule in the Defendant’s favor anyway based on the ambiguous statute. In fact the Court of Appeals concurring opinion by Judge Melanson held that that is exactly how the Court of Appeals should have ruled.
Additionally, if the Court would have gone the other way and adopted the State’s interpretation of the statute, then constitutional issues would probably overturn the Statute. For example, the Right to Travel, which is really an equal protection argument would be raised. Why should out of state felons be treated differently than Idaho felons? Does the State have a compelling governmental interest for treating the two differently? If not then the statute would be ruled unconstitutional.
An important note on why the statute was written with the July 1, 1991 cutoff. Prior to 1991 Idaho felons did not have their right to own or possess a firearm taken from them. Once they finished their probation or parole all of their rights were restored to them, even the right to own or possess a firearm. In 1991 the Idaho legislature passed a law that those convicted of felonies would no longer have their right to own or possess a firearm restored to them upon completing probation or parole. The United States Constitution prevented the legislature from making this an ‘ex post facto’ law, which means the legislature could not pass a law that would retroactively strip the rights of someone who had been convicted in the past. That is why we have the 1991 cutoff. It is not some arbitrary loophole to help defendant’s avoid responsibility for their crimes, it is there to make the statute a constitutional statute.
We are pleased that the conviction was overturned, although we may not be out of the woods yet as the State could still seek review from the Idaho Supreme Court. So stay tuned.