Appeals Court ruling finds Wyoming law insufficient to restore Federal Firearm Ownership Rights
by Governor Freudenthal’s office
August 28, 2008
(Cheyenne) – A Wyoming law intended to balance the rights of individuals to own firearms with the State of Wyoming's ability to keep previous domestic violence offenses on the criminal records of offenders has been struck down by the Tenth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Court issued its decision yesterday regarding the Wyoming law that was intended to restore federal firearms rights by expunging prior state misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. The Tenth Circuit held that Wyoming's law was flawed because it permits the prior conviction to be considered in the event that the same person should be convicted of a second offense. In effect, the Tenth Circuit's decision frustrates the intent of the Wyoming statute.
"Although a petition to the United Supreme Court to review the decision is an option, such petitions are rarely granted under the circumstances presented here," said Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg. "The Wyoming Legislature will have an opportunity to review the Tenth Circuit's decision and consider whether the Wyoming law should be amended to address what the Tenth Circuit considered to be a defect in our expungement statute."
In 2004, the Wyoming Legislature enacted a law, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-1501, that granted those previously convicted of a misdemeanor crime in Wyoming with a one-time right to petition the convicting court for an expungement of that misdemeanor record for the specific purpose of restoring "any firearm rights lost[.]" However, the law does not allow the records of the prior conviction to be destroyed, and the existence of the prior conviction could still be used to enhance the sentence in any future criminal cases.
Shortly after enactment of the law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) contacted the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and advised that the BATF did not consider the Wyoming law as restoring federal firearms rights. Wyoming sued the BATF in Federal District Court seeking recognition of its law.
The Federal District Court did not agree with the state’s interpretation of Wyoming and federal law, and the state appealed. Yesterday’s decision upholds the decision of the Federal District Court.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that because Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-1501 does not completely remove the effects of the prior misdemeanor conviction, it is not a true "expungement" for the purpose of eliminating federal firearms disabilities.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office is still reviewing the decision, but advises individuals who have received an expungement pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-1501, that federal law enforcement may view their possession of any firearm to be a violation of federal law.
"This decision has an impact on any person whose misdemeanor conviction has been expunged under our State law, with regard to their ability to lawfully own or possess firearms. It will further impact qualification for concealed carry permits under the State law."