The Commonwealth Court last week sided with a man who wanted the Pennsylvania State Police correct their records so he could legally purchase a firearm.
In a 2-1 ruling handed down Wednesday, the court found the PSP had kept inaccurate criminal history records in the case of Michael Haron, who was denied a firearms sale based on their faulty information. As such, the court awarded Haron damages and legal fees, citing he was “unlawfully denied exercise of his Second Amendment constitutional right.”
According to the court documents, Haron was pulled over by police in Allentown in 1991 as part of a traffic stop, with officers discovering a BB gun in his possession as well as a small amount of marijuana. Haron pled guilty to carrying a loaded weapon other than a firearm — a first degree a misdemeanor — while the marijuana charge was dismissed.
Then in March 2014, Haron tried to purchase a firearm and was denied after a check by the dealer through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System found his earlier weapons conviction, arguing it was entered in the system as a felony. On appeal, PSP upheld the refusal which led Haron to retain an attorney and file a further appeal with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.
Shortly after filing his appeal the PSP notified Haron’s attorney that he was no longer prohibited from purchasing a firearm. However, the man argued the agency willfully violated the state’s Criminal History Record Information Act and sought damages, filing a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in Cumberland County which was, in turn, ruled on by the Commonwealth Court.
“In this case, PSP did originally maintain incorrect criminal history record information with respect to Haron in violation of [CHRIA] which wrongfully resulted in the denial of his constitutional right to purchase a firearm for a period of several months and required him to ultimately obtain counsel,” said Judge Patricia McCullough for the majority last week.
Although Haron sought over $21,000 from the state, the court whittled away his punitive damages and awarded him $6,423 in actual damages and fees.
“While the judgment is minuscule in relation to the deprivation of a constitutional right, we hope that this case will give the PSP pause in what has become its standard operating procedure to ignore documentation submitted by an unrepresented individual in a PICS Challenge and to force individuals to prove that they are not prohibited, when the burden rests with the PSP to prove that the individual is prohibited,” said Haron’s attorney, Joshua Prince, in a statement.
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