In Minnesota, a person may be ineligible to possess firearms if they have been convicted of a felony under state or federal law. However, your firearm rights may be eligible for restoration. Any relief from a firearms disability under federal law or restoration of firearms eligibility under Minnesota law applies only to the disability or ineligibility stemming from the specifically named conviction. The relief or restoration does not apply to any other firearms disqualifying convictions that the person might incur in the future.
Under both federal and Minnesota law a conviction for nearly any felony triggers a firearms disability, which is recognized by both jurisdictions as lasting at least until the person’s civil rights have been restored. When a person has been deprived of civil rights by reason of conviction of a crime and is thereafter discharged, such discharge shall restore the person to all civil rights and to full citizenship, with full right to vote and hold office, the same as if such conviction had not taken place, and the order of discharge shall address this.1 In practice, relief from a federal or state firearms disability for a firearms-disqualifying criminal conviction generally must await, and occurs upon, the automatic restoration of the person’s civil rights. A federal relief from a firearms disability is recognized under Minnesota law, and vice versa.
However, if a felony conviction within Minnesota has been for a crime of violence, then the resulting firearms prohibition is for the person’s lifetime.2 The Minnesota Personal Protection Act of 2003 also established a new judicial process whereby a person who has been convicted in a Minnesota court for a crime of violence and is therefore subject to a lifetime firearms prohibition, may, following discharge of sentence, petition the court for a restoration of firearms eligibility. Once the person petitions the court, the court may grant relief if the person shows good cause for the relief and is no longer confined. This method of restoration applies exclusively to persons whose ineligibility is due to their conviction for a crime of violence.3 Accordingly, if a felony was later reduced to misdemeanor and the disposition states misdemeanor, the person is still ineligible to possess firearms because the original charge was a felony.
Various Minnesota laws provide specific periods of firearm ineligibility following conviction for certain gross misdemeanor crimes. However, in Minnesota, unlike in some states, misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions do not result in forfeiture of the person’s civil rights. In Smith, the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that civil rights, having not been taken away following a misdemeanor conviction, cannot be assumed restored following discharge of sentence.4 Minnesota, lying within the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, is governed by the ruling in Smith. Thus, unlike in many other states, following conviction in Minnesota courts for certain firearms-disqualifying misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes, the restoration of civil rights (having not been revoked) is not available as a means for the simultaneous restoration of firearms rights.
Accordingly, Minnesota has provided an alternate means for reinstating firearms rights for most gross misdemeanants, except for misdemeanant domestic assault offenders, by means of specific time periods of ineligibility. Generally, for firearms-disqualifying gross misdemeanor crimes, firearms eligibility is restored automatically when three years have elapsed since the date of conviction, and the person has not been convicted of violating any of the following laws5:
Both federal and Minnesota law state that an otherwise firearms-disabling conviction is not a disabling conviction if it has been pardoned or set aside. The Minnesota Board of Pardons has discretionary authority to grant an absolute or conditional “pardon extraordinary,” which when granted will have the effect of setting aside and nullifying the conviction and or purging the person of it, and the person shall never after that be required to disclose the conviction at any time or place other than in a judicial proceeding or as part of the licensing process for peace officers.6 Use of the word “extraordinary” implies a method of relief from a conviction beyond what is customary and that it is an exception to the ordinary practice of maintaining permanent records of the conviction. The board is authorized to grant such a pardon if it determines that the applicant is of good character and reputation, and meets other criteria, including completing service of the sentence. As with other methods of restoring firearms eligibility, however, the criteria for “pardon extraordinary” are more stringent for a person who has been convicted of a crime of violence. If a person has been convicted of a crime of violence, ten years must have elapsed since the sentence was discharged and during which the person was not convicted of any other crime. This is double the five-year waiting period following discharge of sentence before the granting of a “pardon extraordinary” for any other firearms-disqualifying felony conviction.7
Pretrial diversion is another avenue for restoration of firearms eligibility. Minnesota law provides that when a person, including any juvenile, is charged with committing a crime of violence and is placed in a pretrial diversion program by the court before disposition, the court is to inform the defendant that he or she cannot possess a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon until he or she has completed the diversion program and the charge of committing a crime of violence has been dismissed and it is a gross misdemeanor offense to violate this prohibition. If the defendant violates this condition, the charge of committing a crime of violence may be prosecuted. Successful completion of a pretrial diversion program prevents a charged crime from fully becoming a firearms-disqualifying conviction. Nevertheless, the defendant is prohibited from possessing certain types of firearms during the time that he or she is participating in the program. In this manner, Minnesota’s pretrial diversion program constitutes the setting aside of a conviction, thereby meeting the standard for relief of firearms disability under both Minnesota and federal law.9
Expungement of a criminal record is an extraordinary remedy to be granted only upon clear and convincing evidence that it would yield a benefit to the petitioner commensurate with the disadvantages to the public and public safety of (1) sealing the record; and (2) burdening the court and public authorities to issue, enforce, and monitor an expungement order.10 Under the definition of the term “conviction” in both federal and Minnesota law, the expungement of a criminal conviction for a firearms-disqualifying crime generally results in the restoration of the person’s ability to possess firearms, unless the order expressly provides that the person may not possess firearms, or in the case of a Minnesotan convicted of a crime of violence: Any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside, or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored, shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter, unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.11
For any person convicted of a crime of violence, the expungement order for the record of the conviction for a crime of violence must provide that the person is not entitled to possess a firearm for the remainder of the person’s lifetime. The law does not apply to people who receive a relief from disability under federal law or those whose ability to possess firearms has been restored under section 609.165(1)(d).12
If you believe you may be eligible for firearm rights restoration, please take our free online eligibility test or call our office today at (877) 573-7273.
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