United States v. James Bartley (9th Cir. August 2021)

The Federal Docket

September 7, 2021

Firearm Offenses – A conviction for possession of a firearm by someone who has previously been committed to a mental institution does not require findings that the person had both a mental illness and was dangerous.

Firearm Offenses – 18 USC 922(g)(4), which criminalized possession of a firearm by a person previously committed to a mental institution, does not unconstitutionally violate that person’s Second Amendment rights.

James Michael Bartley pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) to possessing a firearm after having been previously committed to a mental institution, but he reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss the underlying indictment.

On appeal, Bartley argued that his 2011 Idaho state commitment proceedings had lacked due process and that § 922(g)(4) did not apply to him because he had not been found both mentally ill and dangerous. Reviewing the case de novo, the Ninth Circuit disagreed. Bartley was represented by counsel and enjoyed the right to cross-examination during his commitment proceedings, and the Court concluded that § 922(g)(4) does not require findings of both mental illness and dangerousness in all cases.

Bartley also argued that, as applied to his case, § 922(g)(4) violated his Second Amendment rights. Assuming without deciding that the application of the statute burdened his rights, the Ninth Circuit applied intermediate scrutiny to the law and rejected this claim as well. Bartley conceded that the government had a significant interest in protecting the community from gun violence and did not argue that § 922(g)(4) was not a “reasonable fit” for this objective.

Appeal from the District of Idaho
Opinion by Tashima, joined by Boggs (by designation from the Sixth Circuit) and Berzon

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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