Although the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to possess firearms, that right is revoked if they're convicted of felonies or domestic violence. If the defendant legally owns those firearms, however, is it possible for him or her to sell them rather than let the police dispose of them? Here's what the Supreme Court had to say about people's right to transfer ownership of firearms to others after being convicted of felonies.
Henderson vs. the United States
In Henderson vs. the United States, the plaintiff was convicted in federal court of drug trafficking, a felony offense. After the case resolved, Henderson requested the FBI transfer ownership of his firearms to his wife or friend, but the agency denied his request feeling it would still make it possible for him to access the weapons.
The first court sided with the FBI. However, the Supreme Court ruled for the plaintiff, stating federal law doesn't prohibit felons who legally own guns from selling or giving them away after their convictions, albeit with a few caveats:
- The firearms must be going to someone who will not allow the felon to access them or have any say in how they're used (e.g. a gun shop)
- The firearms must not have been used in the commission of the crime for which the felon was convicted
- Court judges still have the discretion to decide if the defendant is allowed to direct the disposal of their confiscated firearms
Lastly, the ruling only applies to defendants convicted in federal court. Each state has its own rules regarding the handling of firearms owned by felons convicted in state court. North Carolina, for instance, prohibits felons from owning guns and does not have a provision that lets defendants decide how their firearms are disposed (only the judge gets to say where they go). However, state court judges frequently look to the Supreme Court for guidance on how to handle various legal situations. So in states where the law may be ambiguous or have no prescription for this issue, the judge will likely use the Supreme Court ruling to make a decision about the defendant's request.
Getting Help with This Issue
If you legally own guns and you want to ensure you have a say in where they go if you are convicted of a felony, talk to your criminal attorney about the issue. The lawyer will research the applicable laws and help you come up with a strategy that may result in a good outcome for you. For more information about this or other legal issues, contact an attorney.