As many of you know, I am a vocal critic of our legal community when they get it wrong and since turnabout is fair play, I’m going to talk about one of the few times where the system gets it right and everyone can smile and nod in quiet acquiescence. I got a call this morning from a local attorney who is a board certified expert in criminal matters and has a client that is about to be a convicted felon . . .
Since Baton Rouge is one of those towns where if you hang around long enough you get to know all the players, I knew this attorney by reputation as one of the more competent and better practitioners in the area. The call was about a client who had a gun collection that was confiscated by the police as non-relevant evidence in a criminal matter. The firearms were returned, but with once the case had been decided, there would be an issue of legal disposition. Namely, how do you keep the gun collection as a convicted felon? The short answer: you don’t.
Counsel’s advice to the client was to get rid of all the guns in the collection. The client’s family was, for the most part, a bunch of non gun-owning folks who would have no idea what to do with it all or potentially injure themselves. The attorney wanted to put together a few ideas to comply with the law.
Believe it or not, many bar associations have rules of conduct that govern ethics and practice. In my state there’s a rule concerning the competency of legal advice. In a nutshell, it states that if you aren’t competent to advise on a particular matter, know when to throw in the towel and ask for help. That’s why my phone rang.
With no idea as to present valuations and the technical details about this cornucopia of ballistic perforation equipment, I was brought in as the pro from Dover. Narcissism notwithstanding, this attorney knew when to ask for help from someone who knew the subject matter at hand. Since this was something outside their area of knowledge, it’s refreshing to see someone actually admit what they didn’t know.
Our legal community would be far better served if instead of pontificating on a subject with which they have limited knowledge, more attorneys would press the pause button and get up to speed by talking to people who know the given subject matter.
After reviewing all the information presented to me in the form of a police department inventory report, I gave some numbers as to what the soon-to-be convict is looking at by selling everything via private sales, what dealers would offer, and the value in selling certain firearms one method over others. I was also asked a few other questions on state firearm law on other cases and I presented several obscure statutes that did not immediately come to mind, but were clearly relevant to firearm-related criminal defenses.
Sidenote: The Form 4 that the client filed for an NFA device was disapproved due to pending felony level charges. In this case, the ATF did their job by meeting the requirements of GCA-68 and denying a sale. This raises one really good question: if you are an existing owner of NFA-regulated gear and you become a convicted felon, how does one dispose of the guns in question? As NFA-regulated items carry strict liability — there is no “Oh I’ll just be leaving it with a family member” as that only creates another NFA violation. Nor is there a clear legal strategy to facilitate legal disposition to another party prior to a conviction. Something to think about.
Regrettably, an attorney who asked for assistance in an area where they needed it is an outlier rather than business as usual. We went on to discuss the fact that it’s entirely possible in our legal system to be a firearm owner, engaging in lawful activity who gets arrested and is unable to get the application of the relevant gun laws correct. Many laws just happen to be passed by a legislature that doesn’t understand gun technology or firearm concepts. It is then possible to be hauled in front of a judge who doesn’t understand gun laws or gun technology either, all while being defended and prosecuted by attorneys with the same limited understanding. What a country!
Coincidentally, this particular attorney will be taking to the bench in a few months to replace a retiring judge in my area and I was thoroughly impressed with the willingness and ability to ask for help and to keep an open mind, especially when it comes to technical matters like firearm laws and defensive gun uses. I think this should be a tenet of any good jurist and when asked, I considered it my civic duty to give a crash course to the future judge on gun terms. I wish that the legal community as a whole shared a greater interest in learning about subjects they do not know.
This article starts off about how I’m impressed by the fact that someone in our legal community and soon to be part of our legal system knew when to ask for help. However, it also underscores just how real the real threat of ignorance is in our system. What would this case have looked like had I not been consulted? This was a simple one – and there are not too many simple cases anymore.
Every gun owner should have a thorough knowledge of firearm law, defensive and legal uses. With great power comes great responsibility. Part of that responsibility of having access to an attorney that can competently represent you in the event you run into the cop who is convinced they are right and that you are wrong. I encourage anyone who takes their rights as a citizen seriously to do their homework and have an attorney who knows how to get it right for just these occasions.