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More than just voting rights must be restored for a person to be eligible to possess a firearm under federal law prohibiting possession by felons

In U.S. v. Thompson the defendant appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the federal criminal charge in federal court of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g) The defendant in U.S. v Thompson became a convicted felon following his conviction for first degree assault in an Alabama state court in 1994. As a convicted felon he lost the right to possess a firearm under federal law. He also lost the right to vote, the right to hold public office and the right to serve on a jury under Alabama laws. In 2005 he applied to the State of Alabama for restoration of his civil rights and received from the State of Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles a Certificate of Restoration of Voter Registration Rights. It advised him that his right to vote had been restored in the State of Alabama. The certificate advised Thompson that the “certificate is not a pardon and does not restore, remove or address any other rights , privileges or requirements.” The State also informed him “this certificate serves only the function of allowing you to vote.”

Thompson challenged his conviction claiming that he should not have been convicted under §922(g)(1) because he argued his civil rights had been restored. Section 921(a)(20) excludes any conviction under this statute if the person has had “civil rights restored.” Because the statute does not clarify which civil rights must be restored, prior Eleventh Circuit cases have interpreted this to mean the civil rights must be “unreservedly” restored to qualify for the exception. The open question that was not yet resolved by the court was whether all civil rights must be restored or merely some of them, and if so, which rights. Here the question was whether the restoration of just voting rights is sufficient restoration of civil rights to qualify for the exception under the statute. The court has in the past ruled that the three key civil rights which must be restored to qualify under the statute are: 1) the right to vote, 2) the right to serve on a jury, and 3) the right to hold public office. The Eleventh Circuit relied on a majority (six) of the other circuits that interpret “civil rights” as plural and require more than of these three key civil rights be restored to satisfy the statutory exception to the prohibition of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Though Thompson’s voting rights includes several rights, including the right to vote in federal elections, state elections, and the right to vote in primaries, Thompson only had one of the key civil rights restored. The restoration of only one of these key rights does not satisfy the language of §921(a)(20). The restoration of the right to vote by itself was insufficient to satisfy the exception. This issue will likely be seen in Miami and other areas of Florida where persons often try to restore their civil rights after a felony conviction.

The Eleventh Circuit also resolved a subject matter jurisdiction question. Thompson entered into an unconditional plea and raised the issue after plea and before sentencing. The Eleventh Circuit found it was appropriate to address the matter. Normally a guilty plea acts as a waiver to all non-jurisdictional challenges to a conviction, challenges to subject matter jurisdiction in federal court cannot be waived. Thompson’s argument that the indictment fails to charge an offense that implicates the district court’s jurisdiction was not waived by his unconditional plea.

In case you missed it, kindly read my previous post:
A twenty-five day delay before an agent submitted a search warrant application to a Magistrate Judge to search a computer was not unreasonable in view of the totality of the circumstances, December 11, 2012

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