Beecham v. United States

PETITIONER: Lenard Ray Beecham
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Colorado Springs, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 93-445
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 368 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1994
DECIDED: May 16, 1994

ADVOCATES:
Edward C. DuMont - on behalf of the Respondent
Nathan Lewin - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Lenard Ray Beecham was convicted in Federal District Court of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g), which makes it illegal for a convicted felon to possess a firearm. Beecham argued that according to the statute's exemption clause ("Any conviction...for which a person...has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction...") he was no longer a convicted felon because Tennessee had restored his civil rights. Prosecutors pointed to the statute's "choice of law clause," which states that "What constitutes a conviction...shall be determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held." They argued that because Beecham's prior conviction was under federal law, no state could restore his right to possess a firearm.

The District Court ruled that a state could restore civil rights barred by a federal conviction, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision. The Fourth Circuit's rule conflicted with those of the Courts of Appeals for the Eighth and Ninth Circuits, which held that the since the exemption clause applied to "any conviction," it also permitted states to undo restrictions caused by federal convictions.

Question

Under 18 U.S.C. 922(g), can state procedures for the restoration of the civil rights of felons restore the right of a federal felon to possess a firearm?

Media for Beecham v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 16, 1994 in Beecham v. United States

Harry A. Blackmun:

I have an opinion to announce on behalf of Justice O'Connor who is also absent today.

This is No.93-445, Beecham and Jones against the United States.

This case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Petitioners, Beecham and Jones, were convicted of being felons in possession of firearms.

Under the felon in possession law, a person may regain the right to possess firearms if he has had civil rights restored for his conviction, and Beecham and Jones claimed this exemption applied to them.

But both petitioners had prior federal convictions as well as prior state convictions and their civil rights had been restored only under state law, and for this reason, the Court of Appeals ruled against the petitioners.

In an opinion filed today, we affirm that judgment.

We hold that a civil rights restoration can nullify the affect of a conviction only if it was performed by the convicting jurisdiction.

Petitioner's state civil rights restorations, therefore, cannot undo the disability flowing from their Federal Court convictions.

And this opinion also is unanimous.