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Media Alerts - Daniel Binderup v. Attorney General United States of America - Third Circuit
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September 9, 2016
  Daniel Binderup v. Attorney General United States of America - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Panel Restores Second Amendment Rights to Challengers

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Issue(s) Presented: Whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) applies to convictions for which it is possible to receive an imprisonment sentence of one year or less and, if it does, whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), as applied to challengers, violates their Second Amendment rights.

Brief Summary: This decision failed to accumulate a majority of circuit judges for most of the analysis. However, a unanimous Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) applies to convictions eligible for a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year even if the conviction is also eligible for a shorter sentence. A majority of the Court also held that, as applied to the two challengers in this case, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) unconstitutionally infringed on their Second Amendment rights.

Extended Summary: Sitting en banc, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard two challenges to a major federal firearms statute in a consolidated oral argument. The federal statute in question was the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). This statute generally prohibits the possession of firearms by those convicted, in any court, of a "crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year."

The first challenger was Daniel Binderup, who had been in a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female when he was 41 years old. Although the teen was a minor, she was over Pennsylvania's legal age of consent. Binderup pled guilty to corruption of a minor in connection with this relationship - a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to five years in prison. His actual sentence was probation for three years and a fine, plus court costs and restitution. Binderup had no further criminal history.

Julio Suarez was the second challenger. Police noticed a handgun and two "speed loaders" in Suarez's vehicle after stopping him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Suarez did not have a permit for the gun and ultimately pled guilty to unlawfully carrying a handgun without a license - a misdemeanor offense punishable by imprisonment for "not less than 30 days and not [more than] three years or a fine of not less than $250 and not [more than] $2,500 or both." His actual punishment was a suspended sentence of 180 days' imprisonment and a fine, followed by probation for one year.

Binderup and Suarez (the "Challengers") wanted to obtain guns but § 922(g)(1) barred them from possessing firearms because their situations did not fall within any of the statutory exceptions. A unanimous Court quickly rejected the Challengers' first argument that § 922(g)(1) did not apply to their convictions. The Challengers argued that, because their convictions were eligible for sentences less than two years' imprisonment, the convictions fell within an exception to § 922(g)(1) exempting state misdemeanors "punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less." The Third Circuit interpreted "punishable by" to mean that the crime in question could not be punished by a sentence of more than two years.

The second argument was an "as-applied" challenge to the constitutionality of the statute, that is, the law's "application to a particular person under particular circumstances deprived that person of a constitutional right." The Court utilized a framework for as-applied challenges to gun laws. First, the "challenger must prove...that a presumptively lawful regulation burdens his Second Amendment rights." To do this, he must "(1) identify the traditional justifications for excluding from Second Amendment protections the class of which he appears to be a member, and then (2) present facts about himself and his background that distinguish his circumstances from those of persons in the historically barred class." The challenger holds the burden of rebutting the presumptive lawfulness of the exclusion with a strong showing. If the challenger succeeds, "the burden shifts to the Government to demonstrate that the regulation satisfies some form of heightened scrutiny."

Using this framework, the Court began with the presumption that § 922(g)(1) was valid. Prior Supreme Court precedent affirmed that "prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons" are presumptively valid. For its part, § 922(g)(1) described convictions that, though classified as misdemeanors in a state court, met the traditional definition of a felony. Both Challengers' crimes fell within that traditional definition, even though their ultimate sentences did not.

The Court ultimately concluded that the Challengers' convictions "were not serious enough to strip them of their Second Amendment rights." In particular, the classification a state legislature gives to an offense "is a powerful expression of its belief that the offense is not serious enough to be disqualifying," though the maximum possible punishment remains probative on the issue. That the Challengers received lenient sentences as measured against the guidelines further supported their arguments.

Finally, the Court determined that the law did not survive heightened scrutiny as applied to the Challengers. While the law was intended to further a governmental interest of promoting public safety, applying either intermediate or strict scrutiny, the Government did not meet its burden to prove the appropriateness of the means to further this interest.

Judge Fuentes, joined by six other judges, wrote the concurring and dissenting opinion dissenting in the judgment. Its view was that § 922(g)(1) could never be successfully attacked in an as-applied challenge because felons and felon-equivalents affected by the law lack Second Amendment rights and, therefore, their rights could not be burdened. The concurring and dissenting opinion also argued that the approach adopted by the plurality opinion was unworkable and "place[d] an extraordinary administrative burden on district courts."

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/144549p.pdf.

Panel: McKee, Chief Judge and Ambro, Fuentes, Smith, Fisher, Chagares, Jordan, Hardiman, Greenaway, Jr., Vanaskie, Shwartz, Krause, Restrepo, Nygaard, and Roth, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: June 1, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: September 7, 2016

Docket Number: Nos. 14-4549, 14-4550, 15-1975, 15-1976

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Sarah Kalman

Counsel: Benjamin C. Mizer, Esquire, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Zane D. Memeger, Esquire, United States Attorney, Mark B. Stern, Esquire, Michael S. Raab, Esquire,
Patrick Nemeroff, Esquire, and Abby C. Wright, Esquire, Counsel for Appellants/Cross-Appellees; Alan Gura, Esquire and Douglas Gould, Esquire, Counsel for Appellees/Cross-Appellants; Stefan B. Tahmassebi, Esquire, Amicus Curiae Counsel on behalf of the NRA.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Ambro

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/09/2016 01:20 PM     3rd Circuit  

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