460 U.S. 103 (1983), 81-1180, Dickerson v. New Banner Institute, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 81-1180
Citation:460 U.S. 103, 103 S.Ct. 986, 74 L.Ed.2d 845
Party Name:Dickerson v. New Banner Institute, Inc.
Case Date:February 23, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 103

460 U.S. 103 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 986, 74 L.Ed.2d 845

Dickerson

v.

New Banner Institute, Inc.

No. 81-1180

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1983

Argued November 29, 1982

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Title IV of the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1), makes it unlawful for any person "who has been convicted . . . of . . . a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" to ship, transport, or receive any firearm or ammunition in interstate commerce. Title IV also makes it unlawful to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without a license from the Secretary of the Treasury. One ground for denial of a license is where the applicant is under the prohibitions imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1), and if the applicant is a corporation, a license will be denied if a person with power to direct the management of the corporation is under such prohibitions. One Kennison, the chairman of the board and a shareholder of respondent corporation, after plea negotiations, pleaded guilty in an Iowa state court to the state crime of carrying a concealed handgun. This crime was punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than five [103 S.Ct. 987] years, or both. The state court, however, pursuant to an Iowa statute, "deferred" entry of a formal judgment and placed Kennison on probation. At the completion of his probation term, he was discharged, also pursuant to a state statute, and his record with respect to the deferred judgment was expunged. Subsequently, respondent applied to the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Bureau) for licenses as a firearms and ammunition dealer and manufacturer, but did not disclose Kennison's plea of guilty to the Iowa concealed weapon charge. The licenses were issued but were later revoked when the Bureau learned of the Iowa charge. The District Court upheld the revocation, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although Kennison had been "convicted" of an offense that triggered firearms disabilities, that fact could not serve as a predicate for a Gun Control Act violation or license revocation, because the conviction had been expunged under the Iowa deferred judgment procedure.

Held: The firearms disabilities imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1) apply to Kennison, and were not removed by the expunction of the record of his guilty plea to the concealed weapon charge. Pp. 110-122.

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(a) For purposes of the federal gun control laws, a plea of guilty to a disqualifying crime and its notation by a state court, followed by a sentence of probation, is equivalent to being "convicted" within the language of §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1). Pp. 111-114.

(b) Iowa's expunction provisions, as carried out in Kennison's case prior to respondent's license applications, did not nullify his conviction for purposes of the federal statute. Expunction under state law does not alter the legality of the previous conviction, does not open the way to a license despite the conviction, and does not signify that the defendant was innocent of the crime to which he pleaded guilty. Expunction in Iowa means no more than that the State has provided a means for the trial court not to accord a conviction certain continuing effects under state law. Pp. 114-115.

(c) Provisions of the federal gun control laws other than the provisions in question, as well as related federal statutes, support the conclusion that Congress did not intend expunction of a state conviction automatically to remove the firearms disabilities imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1). Pp. 115-118.

(d) There is nothing in the legislative history of Title IV or related federal statutes to suggest an opposite intent. Title IV's purpose to curb crime by keeping firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetency, would be frustrated by a ruling that gave effect to state expunctions. In the absence of a plain indication to the contrary, it is assumed that Congress did not intend to make the application of Title IV dependent on state law. Title IV is carefully constructed gun control legislation. Congress knew the significance and meaning of the language it employed. Pp. 118-121.

(e) A rule that would give effect to expunction under varying state statutes would seriously hamper effective enforcement of Title IV. Pp. 121-122.

649 F.2d 216, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined,post, p. 122.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue whether firearms disabilities imposed by 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and (h) [103 S.Ct. 988] apply with respect to a person who pleads guilty to a state offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year when the record of the proceeding subsequently is expunged under state procedure following a successfully served term of probation.

I

Title IV of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 226, was amended by the Gun Control Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 1214, and now appears as 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. V). Title IV makes it unlawful for any person "who is under indictment for, or who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year"1 to ship, transport, or receive any firearm or ammunition in interstate commerce. §§ 922(g) and (h). Title IV also makes it unlawful to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without a license from the Secretary of the Treasury. §§ 922(a) and 923(a) One ground, specified by the statute, for denial of a license is the fact that the applicant is barred by §§ 922(g) and (h) from transporting, shipping, or receiving firearms or ammunition. § 923(d)(1)(B). The same statute provides that, where the applicant is a corporation, partnership, or association, a license will be denied

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if an individual possessing, directly or indirectly, the power to direct the management and policies of the entity is under the prohibitions imposed by §§ 922(g) and (h). Title IV also makes it a crime to violate any of its provisions or to make a willful misrepresentation with respect to information required to be furnished. § 924(a).

Although, as noted above, Title IV imposes disabilities upon any "person who has been convicted . . . of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year," it does permit certain persons in that category to apply to the Secretary for relief from those disabilities. Under § 925(c), the Secretary may grant relief

if it is established to his satisfaction that the circumstances regarding the conviction, and the applicant's record and reputation, are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.

When the Secretary grants relief, he must publish notice of his action promptly in the Federal Register, together with a statement of reasons. Ibid.

II

David F. Kennison, a resident of Columbia, S.C. is a director, chairman of the board, and a shareholder of respondent New Banner Institute, Inc., a corporation. In September, 1974, when Kennison was in Iowa, he was arrested and charged with kidnaping his estranged wife. After plea negotiation, see Tr. of Oral Arg. 40-41, he pleaded guilty to the state crime of carrying a concealed handgun, and the kidnaping charge was dismissed. The concealed weapon offense, under then Iowa law, see Iowa Code §§ 695.2 and .3 (1977), was punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.2 In accord

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with the provisions of Iowa Code § 789A.1 (1977), then in effect,3 the state court entered an order [103 S.Ct. 989] reciting that Kennison had "entered a plea of guilty to the charge of carrying a concealed weapon," that "the defendant has consented to a deferment of sentence in this matter," that "he has stable employment," and that there were "unusual circumstances"

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in the case. The order then stated that the court "deferred" entry of a formal judgment and placed Kennison on probation.

Kennison returned to South Carolina, where he completed his probation term. When that term expired in February, 1976, he was discharged pursuant to Iowa Code § 789A.6 (1977), then in effect,4 and the Iowa court's record with reference to the deferred judgment was expunged.

In May, 1976, respondent filed three applications with the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Bureau), for licenses as a dealer in firearms and ammunition, as a manufacturer of ammunition, and as a collector of curios and relics. On the application forms, respondent listed Kennison as a "responsible person," that is, an individual possessing direct or indirect power to control the management and policies of respondent. See 18 U.S.C. § 923(d)(1)(B). In answering an inquiry on the forms as to whether such person had been convicted of a crime punishable by a prison term exceeding one year, respondent did not disclose the Iowa events or Kennison's plea of guilty in that State. The requested licenses were issued.

The Bureau, however, subsequently learned of the Iowa concealed weapon charge and the plea of guilty. In conformity with the provisions of §§ 923(e) and (f)(1) and of 27 CFR

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§ 178.75 (1982), it mailed respondent Notices of...

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