Henderson v. United States
Docket No.: 13-1487
Argument Heard: Feb 24, 2015
The Supreme Court will have to decide if a felony conviction takes away a defendant’s full property interest in his or her firearms. Under Federal Law a felony conviction makes it unlawful for a defendant to possess a firearms. However, can a defendant upon conviction transfer his firearms to a third- party or sell the firearms for personal benefits.
Tony Henderson, a Florida man, was convicted on drug charges and forced to give up his firearms. Henderson was a former Border Patrol agent who was convicted of distributing marijuana and other drug offenses and was sentenced to six months in prison. After his arrest, Henderson voluntarily turned over his nineteen firearms to the FBI. However, shortly after he wanted to sell the guns to an unrelated third party or just transfer the ownership of the guns to his wife. The FBI declined Henderson’s requests to transfer the firearms to either of the individuals identified. Henderson then filed a “Motion for the Return/Disposition of Property” in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Both the District Court and the Circuit Court refused his request. The Court of Appeals held that because Henderson was a convicted felon he had “unclean hands to demand return of his firearms” even though he “did not use those firearms in furtherance of his offense.”
Henderson does not deny that the firearms cannot actually be returned to him without violating federal law. Instead he draws a distinction between possessory interest and ownership. Henderson believes the government can transfer the interest on behalf of the convicted owner. He also states that there is a clear Circuit split on the issue of federal law extinguishing all ownership interest. He argues that Third, Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts have held that federal law extinguishes all property interests. While Second, Fifth, and Seventh Circuit Courts and the Montana Supreme Court allow for non-possessory interests in firearms after a felony conviction. He also states that Circuits disagree about whether “unclear hands” prevent disposition of noncontraband firearms. He states that the “Eleventh Circuit’s unclean hands rationale does not support denying relief absent wrongdoing related to the property”
The government believes the court of appeals is correct and that the circuit courts are not divided on this issue. The government believes that Henderson’s view that the government can transfer interest on his behalf is false because this “transaction would vest the supposedly extinguished interest in a third party” or of persons of Henderson’s own choosing. The government also contends that the petitioner gave the firearm over voluntarily after he plead guilty and he could have sold his interest prior to the conviction. The government also states that it is unsafe to give a felon access to guns because he could easily retrieve them, especially if they belong to his wife.
It is hard to say what the Supreme Court is likely to do. This dispute is becoming a fight for gun control. On one side are the Gun Owners of America and National Rifle Association, and on the other side is the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. It is clear the outcome will have an effect on gun owners and their ability to keep possessory interest. I believe that the Supreme Court will side with the Government and not allow possessory interest. It seems like Henderson could have sold or transferred his guns before his conviction. Both lower courts denied to hear his case and I think the Supreme Court took this case to set all of the Circuit Courts straight and to rule that the a felon loses all possessory interest in firearms. This is a safer alternative then allowing the felon to sell or transfer his gun collection to others after his conviction. Allowing the felon to sell or transfer would allow the felon easy has access to the firearms. The reason for having this federal law would be defeated if felons could keep possessory interest.
Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner
Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner