Maryland's brilliant common law scheme does it again, folks. The U.S. District Court of D.C. recently handed down a decision affirming a claimant's ineligibility to register and own a firearm because of a minor assault misdemeanor from 1968.
The claimant sued attorney general Eric Holder, alleging violations of his Second Amendment right to bear arms for applying the Federal weapons prohibition to his case. The Federal law, known as the Firearm Owners Protection Act (formerly the Gun Control Act of 1968) makes any person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by more than two years jail time automatically ineligible for gun registration and ownership. The penalty applies no matter what the circumstances.
Schrader was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery in 1968 when he was a 20-year-old in the Navy after he got into a fistfight with a gang member who had previously assaulted him in the street. Even though the conviction was a relatively minor one, it still disqualifies him from gun ownership.
The problem lies in Maryland's common law statutory scheme that until recently did not name maximum penalties for most crimes. Even after legal reforms, the maximum penalty that was set for most crimes is an astronomical number, with 1st degree assault set at 25 years maximum and 2nd degree misdemeanor assault (the equivalent of Schrader's crime) set at 10 years imprisonment. While most sentences in Maryland do not come close to that maximum and remain in line with the national standards, the fact that the law CAN impose more than two years jail time is what disqualifies a person from ever owning a gun.
Contrary to Maryland's statutory system, most other states codify reasonable maximum penalties and make misdemeanors punishable by up to one year imprisonment. This one year maximum is typically how misdemeanors are defined, even by the federal government. Maryland, however, continues to be an outlier.
There are few legal remedies for an individual who is unfairly banned from gun ownership because of Maryland's laws, especially in the wake of the recent court decision. Successful battles may require numerous time-consuming petitions for post-conviction relief and abundant financial resources to cover legal fees and expenses. To even use the term 'successful' may be highly inappropriate. As the current appeals decision holds, the law is the law, and woe be to those who fall within its restrictions.
This blog post was written by Rosie Escobar Brown. Rosie is a law clerk for the law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and she is in her final semester of law school. Price Benowitz LLP based in Washington, DC with additional offices in Maryland, Virginia, and New York. In addition to defending people charged with crimes, the firm's attorneys also protect the interests of those who have been injured through another's negligence.