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State v. Robinson

03/29/2016

State v. Robinson: Non-Violent Felons Arrested Prior to the Passage of Amendment V Can Be Charged with Unlawful Firearm Possession

By Mallory Stumpf

Introduction

Amendment V addressing the rights of Missouri citizens to bear arms was approved by Missouri voters in 2014. In State v. Robinson, the Missouri Supreme Court addressed whether the State could charge “non-violent” felons arrested prior to the passage of the amendment with unlawful possession of a firearm.

Background

Raymond Robinson was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm under R.S.Mo. 571.070.1 in July 2014, as he was previously convicted for a non-violent felony.[1] Steve Lomax was also arrested in June 2014 and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of R.S.Mo. 571.070.1.[2] Following the approval by Missouri voters of Amendment V to Article I, section 23 of the Missouri Constitution, both Robinson and Lomax alleged the amendment prohibited the State from criminalizing a non-violent felon’s possession of a firearm and moved to dismiss the charges.[3] Although the crime for which Robinson was charged occurred prior to the adoption of Amendment V, the trial court held R.S.Mo. 571.070.1 was unconstitutional as applied to Robinson because his prior felony was “non-violent.”[4] The trial court also dismissed the unlawful possession of a firearm charge against Lomax.[5] The State appealed the dismissal of the charges.[6]

Court’s Analysis

The court stated that it would follow its recent cases State v. Merritt, 467 S.W.3d 808 (Mo. banc 2015), and State v. McCoy, 468 S.W.3d 892 (Mo. banc 2015), where it determined that the right of the State to regulate a non-violent felon’s possession of a firearm is governed by the version of Article I, section 23 in effect at the time the crime was committed.[7] Because Robinson’s and Lomax’s alleged crimes occurred before Amendment V was passed by voters, the version of Article I, section 23 that was in effect prior to the amendment was applied to their cases.[8] The court found that the version of Article I, section 23 that was in effect at the time of Robinson’s and Lomax’s arrests in 2014 did not prohibit the State from regulating the right of non-violent felons to bear arms.[9]

The court chose not to address whether Amendment V barred the State from prohibiting non-violent felons from bearing arms following the passage of Amendment V, as this amendment was not applicable at the time of Robinson’s and Lomax’s arrests.[10] However, the court handed down an opinion concurrently in State v. Clay, 2016 WL 503216 (Mo. banc 2016), which did address the post-Amendment V effects on non-violent felons’ right to bear arms.[11]

Ultimately, the court reversed the dismissal of the counts of unlawful possession of a firearm against Robinson and Lomax.[12]

Author’s Analysis

The court offered a succinct opinion in the cases of Robinson and Lomax, most likely because they analyzed Amendment V and non-violent felons’ possession of firearms in more depth in their opinions of McCoy and Merritt, and also in Clay. It is interesting to note the number of instances in which charges for unlawful possession of a firearm were challenged by defendants after Amendment V was passed with at least five cases reaching the Missouri Supreme Court.[13] The circumstances in McCoyMerritt, and Clay were very similar to those of Robinson and Lomax.

Amendment V’s language includes: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons . . .”[14] The trial court addressed the express provision for “violent felons” in the amendment, yet the Missouri Supreme Court in Robinson did not, limiting their opinion to whether the amendment applied at the time of the arrest. The changes to the Missouri Constitution after Amendment V do not appear to have any effect on the rights of felons, violent or non-violent. Although the language of the amendment expressly stated “violent felons” and did not address non-violent felons, the court’s decisions in Robinson and Clay indicated that both before and after the passage of Amendment V it is not unconstitutional to restrict the rights of non-violent felons to bear arms. Had Amendment V omitted the word “violent” from its description of convicted felons to be more similar to the description in R.S.Mo. 571.070.1 (“convicted of a felony”), Robinson’s and Lomax’s arguments for dismissal may not have arisen or may have been argued in a different context.

Conclusion

The court did not offer a lengthy analysis in State v. Robinson, but the opinion falls in line with the other decisions based on Amendment V. It is apparent that the court does not believe Amendment V offers the opportunity for felons, either violent or non-violent, to lawfully possess firearms, especially those arrested prior to the passage of the amendment.

Mallory Stumpf*
Edited by Tyler Winn

Footnotes

[1] State v. Robinson, 2016 WL 502833, at *2,  –S.W.3d.– (Mo. banc 2016).

[2] Id. at *4.

[3] Id. at *2-4.

[4] Id. at *3.

[5] Id. at *4.

[6] State v. Robinson, 2016 WL 502833, at *4.

[7] Id. at *5.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] State v. Robinson, 2016 WL 502833, at *5.

[12] Id.

[13] See State v. Merritt, 467 S.W.3d 808 (Mo. banc 2015); State v. McCoy, 468 S.W.3d 892 (Mo. banc 2015); State v. Clay, 2016 WL 503216 (Mo. banc 2016); State v. Robinson, 2016 WL 502833 (Mo. banc 2016) (consolidating State v. Robinson and State v. Lomax).

[14] Mo. Const. art. I, § 23.

* Student at the Saint Louis University School of Law, Anticipate Graduation May 2017.