MONUMENTAL DECISION – Federal Court Rules a Pennsylvania 302 Mental Health Commitment Insufficient to Trigger a Disability under Section 922(g)(4)
We are extremely proud to announce that today Attorney Joshua Prince was successful in having Federal District Court Judge Kim Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania rule that an involuntary commitment under Section 302 of Pennsylvania’s Mental Health and Procedures Act (“MHPA”) is insufficient to trigger a federal firearms and ammunition disability under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).
For those unaware, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) provides
It shall be unlawful for any person–
(4) who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution;
to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
Section 302 of the MHPA permits a physician to involuntarily commit an individual in the absence of any form of due process (i.e. the individual is not provided an attorney, the ability to confront or present witnesses, the ability to challenge or submit evidence, or provided any other requisites of due process).
As a result of a single, isolated 302 commitment, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took the position that Mr. Franklin was federally prohibited from possessing and purchasing firearms and ammunition. As a result, he brought a challenge in federal court challenging, inter alia, whether a 302 commitment was sufficient to trigger a prohibition under Section 922(g)(4) and if so, argued that it would be unconstitutional to deny him in perpetuity his Second Amendment rights, as applied to him. As our viewers are aware, Attorney Prince has won two previous Second Amendment as-applied challenges to mental health commitments.
Judge Gibson in reviewing whether Mr. Franklin was “adjudicated as a mental defective” found that the
procedures provided for by Section 302 of the MHPA and that were applied to Mr. Franklin scarcely constitute an ‘adjudication’. The plain meaning of “adjudicated” connotes the involvement of a judicial decision-maker, the resolution of a dispute after consideration of argument by the parties involved, and a deliberative proceeding with some form of due process….Notably, courts, boards, and commissions all function in a neutral judicial or quasi-judicial role, therein greatly differing from the ex parte, non-judicial procedures and non-judicial actors provided for by Section 302 of the MHPA.
The court continued on
Thus, because Mr. Franklin was not “adjudicated as a mental defective” by a court, board, or commission, Section 922(g)( 4) does not provide for a restriction of Mr. Franklin’s ability to own a firearm based on a determination by one of these three “adjudicators.”…Interpreting Section 922(g)( 4) such that individual physicians and other non-neutral actors have lawful authority to wholly strip a person of their ability to a possess a firearm in perpetuity based on a non-adversarial, ex parte decision would raise serious constitutional concerns with the statute, which
the canon of constitutional avoidance requires the Court to avoid if possible
Judge Gibson then turned to whether Mr. Franklin was “committed to a mental institution” and in finding that he was not committed to a mental institution, held that a prohibition under Section 922(g)(4) “presupposes a formal commitment decision by a ‘court, board, commission, or other lawful authority’.” Most importantly, Judge Gibson declared
By its own terms and effect, Section 302 of the MHPA does not provide for a commitment to a mental institution as defined by 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, nor did Mr. Franklin undergo a commitment to a mental institution for the purposes of Section 922(g)(4).
In deferring to decide Mr. Franklin’s Second and Fifth Amendment claims on the basis of the constitutional avoidance doctrine and resolution of the issue absent review of the constitutional implications, Judge Gibson declared that
the Court cannot deny the serious constitutional doubts raised by the parties’ arguments in the instant matter-both in regard to due process rights of the Fifth Amendment and the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The arguments raised in the parties’ briefs, a “fractured vote” by the Third Circuit on a related issue, and recent, disparate decisions by other district courts within the Third Circuit amply demonstrate the seriousness of these constitutional concerns and the appropriateness of constitutional avoidance when a reasonable interpretation of Section 922(g)( 4) avoids consideration of those weighty constitutional issues.
In concluding the decision, Judge Gibson holds
Although the provisions of Section 302 of the MHPA may be sufficient to justify an involuntary emergency examination and treatment, the Court is not persuaded that these non-adversarial, ex parte procedures without notice, a hearing, the opportunity to present evidence, or a judicial or quasi-judicial actor constitute an “adjudication” for the purposes of Section 902(g)(4), nor that a 120-hour-maximum “involuntary emergency examination and treatment” constitutes a “commitment to a mental institution.”
Please join us in congratulating Attorney Prince for this monumental victory!
If you or someone you know has been involuntarily committed and is now prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition, contact Firearms Industry Consulting Group today to discuss YOUR rights and legal options.
Firearms Industry Consulting Group® (FICG®) is a registered trademark and division of Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., with rights and permissions granted to Prince Law Offices, P.C. to use in this article.