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Firearm Rights Restoration & The Nature of the Crime in Minnesota

State v. Moon
Supreme Court of Minnesota
November 30, 1990

Holding: In order to determine whether a defendant who has had his civil rights restored should be barred from possessing firearms, a court will look to the nature of the crime and not to the treatment of the defendant.

Why This Case is Important: Pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 609.165, subdivision 1, a person who has had his civil rights deprived will have them restored upon discharge such that he once again has full citizenship. However, pursuant to subdivision 1a of the above-mentioned statute, certain persons will be precluded from possessing firearms if they have committed a crime of violence.

Some crimes of violence are murder, manslaughter, assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, criminal sexual assault, and felonious theft. A person who has committed a crime deemed to be a crime of violence will be unable to possess a firearm for at least ten years from when his civil rights are restored.

This case establishes that a court will look to the nature of the crime, rather than the treatment of the individual, in determining whether a firearm restriction should be ordered. This case law is relevant where a defendant has been convicted of a crime such as felonious theft, but subsequently has it set as a misdemeanor.

Pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 609.13, a court may deem a felony conviction to be a misdemeanor if the imposition of a prison sentence is stayed, the defendant is placed on probation, and the defendant is discharged without prison sentence. A defendant who has a felonious theft charge reduced to a misdemeanor would seemingly no longer fall under the category of a “crime of violence.” However, as described above, it is the elements of the crime with which the defendant has been convicted that serves to place the firearm restriction on the defendant.

Such a restriction arises from the protectionist nature of the statute. The statute was meant to protect the public from those defendants’s who may pose a threat to the public in the future. The firearm restriction is in place to ensure that the public will be safe from individuals who fall within the violent crimes category.

As a result, it is of no relevance if the court reduces a felonious theft conviction to a misdemeanor, because it is the original crime that will prevent the defendant from possessing firearm rights pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 609.165, subdivision 1a.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in tis case was convicted of felony theft for filing false Medicaid claims. The defendant entered a guilty plea and was placed on five years of probation. In 1989, the court discharged the defendant from probation, and deemed his felony theft offense to be a misdemeanor. It also placed a firearm restriction on the defendant pursuant to Minn. State section 609.165, subd. 1a. The Minnesota court of appeals reversed the firearm restriction, and the State appealed.

The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the decision of the court of appeals, and affirmed the trial court’s decision to place the firearm restriction on the defendant. The Court determined that the firearm restriction was set in place to protect the public from individuals who committed a certain type of crime. As such, the Court held that it was the nature of the crime, not the treatment of the defendant that was relevant in imposing the firearm restriction.

Because the defendant in this case was convicted of felony theft, and because felony theft was deemed a “crime of violence,” then the Court concluded that the firearm restriction should be placed on the defendant.

The Minnesota Supreme Court thereby reversed the decision of the court of appeals, and held that the firearm restriction be placed on the defendant.

Key Language: In enacting section 609.165, subdivision 1a, the legislature intended the nature of the offense rather than the subsequent treatment of the offender to be the basis for the imposition of the firearms restriction. We hold that the definitions of the offenses listed as crimes of violence in section 624,712, subdivision 5, relate to the elements of the offense for which the defendant was originally convicted rather than the disposition subsequently imposed by the trial judge.

Expert Advise: “The imposition of a firearm restriction is not arbitrary. It is set in place to protect the public. It is important to note that although an individual may be restricted from possessing firearms, he still obtains great benefits from having his civil rights restored.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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