Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that successful completion of a deferred sentence restores the Second Amendment rights of a person convicted of a criminal felony offense. This is an extremely important decision in the fight for non-violent felons to regain their natural right of self-defense via firearms ownership.
Before we continue let’s make sure we are clear on the definition of a deferred sentence. U.S. Legal defines deferred sentencing as follows:
A deferred sentence refers to a postponed, or delayed sentence in a criminal matter. In a deferred sentence, the court gives a defendant an opportunity to complete a probationary period before sentencing. If the defendant successfully completes probation (usually not longer than 2 years), at the conclusion of the probationary period the court will review the defendant’s file and may dismiss the charges against him/her. If, however, the defendant does not follow all of the terms and conditions of probation the court may enter the conviction and sentence the defendant accordingly.
Depending on the jurisdiction, a person may or may not have a permanent record of the crime on their criminal record after a successful completion of the probationary period and subsequent dismissal of the charges.
Now that everyone has an understanding of the term deferred sentencing, we’ll start to examine the case against John Oliver Reese. This case was the catalyst for the historical ruling that enables some felons to regain their right to own a gun. Back in 1992 Reese entered a no contest plea in the 2nd District Court to a single felony of tampering with evidence. The court deferred his sentencing and placed him on probation for eighteen months. The charges against Reese were dismissed once he completed the probation.
Fast forward more than ten years and according to court documents Reese found himself amid “a maelstrom of domestic strife” involving his current wife, ex-wives, and a girlfriend. Accusations of domestic violence by his current wife and his ex-wife tipping off the authorities to Reese being a convicted felon that owns firearms, led the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to obtain a warrant to search Reese’s home. During the search they confiscated more than thirty firearms, along with ammunition. Reese was charged with a twenty-four count federal indictment that related to the owning of firearms while being a convicted felon.
Reese questioned the validity of the claim that he was a convicted felon. He disputed that he did not have a prior felony due to the conviction against him having been dismissed after successful completion of his deferred sentence. He entered a conditional plea to a single charge and took the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The 10th Circuit said that to decide Reese’s case, it needed to know how the state Supreme Court interpreted New Mexico law, and that the New Mexico court’s decision would decide the case.
The federal court asked the question: If a defendant completes a deferred sentence for a felony, are the individual’s rights automatically restored without a pardon or certificate from the governor?
The Supreme Court said yes.
It is unknown at this time what ripple effect this ruling could have across the rest of the country. Confusing the subject more is the fact that Federal and state laws regulating gun ownership are intertwined. Federal law says that a person convicted in any court of a felony may not possess a firearm. States vary in gun rights allowed to convicted felons.
At the very least this case should have an immediate impact in New Mexico for convicted felons that have completed a deferred sentence. They should now be legally allowed to own a firearm. Also, any felons serving time in New Mexico for felon-in-possession crimes after having served a deferred sentence should have their felon-in-possession convictions thrown out.
This ruling opens the door to similar challenges in other states and hopefully a challenge to the federal law prohibiting convicted felons from owning guns. There are additional aspects to this ruling that could leave the door open for felons in others states to challenge for restoration of their right to own a firearm. At the very least, hopefully other states follow New Mexico’s lead, and allow for felons that have already had convictions dismissed for completing deferred sentencing to have their rights restored.
In past articles I have made my stance on this subject clear, non-violent felons should have their Second Amendment rights restored upon release, regardless of sentencing. To go one step further, one day I hope to see laws that lock non-violent “criminal” in a cage wiped off the books.
As I wrote in a previous installment of Felony Friday, when discussing the topic of a felon’s Second Amendment rights, some states allow felons to own a muzzle loading rifle. This is fine for hunting, but does not fulfill the Constitutional right to bear arms or the natural right to defend your own life and property.
If the legal system has deemed a man to be “free” to live among the people, then they should be afforded the same rights as every other “free” man. There is no freedom in letting a person walk out of a jail, but restricting the rights that afford them the same legal rights to protect their life and property as is afforded the rest of “free” society.
Check out our past editions of Felony Friday!