Gun-Toting Felons

North Carolina law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms.  See G.S. 14-415.1.  I’ve had several recurrent questions about this offense, so here’s an FAQ about FIP (felon in possession):

1. Doesn’t North Carolina allow felons to possess long guns? Not anymore.  North Carolina’s FIP law used to have lots of exceptions, including exceptions for long guns and for handguns in the home or workplace.  It also used to allow felons to regain the right to possess firearms five years after completion of their sentences.  The last of these provisions was eliminated effective December 1, 2004, bringing the North Carolina law pretty close to the absolute and permanent prohibition that exists, in any event, under federal law.  See 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).

2.  Is the constitutionality of G.S. 14-415.1 in doubt after District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. __ (2008), in which the United States Supreme Court recently held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms? No.  The Heller Court was quite clear that the right to bear arms is “not unlimited,” and specifically noted that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

3. Does a no contest plea count as a conviction?  Does a PJC?  Does a conviction that is on appeal at the time of the possession? Yes, a conviction based on a no contest plea counts.  See State v. Watts, 72 N.C. App. 661 (1985).  Yes, a PJC counts.  See State v. Friend, 169 N.C. App. 99 (2005).  Although I don’t know of a case on point, I would expect our appellate courts to hold that a conviction on appeal counts, too.  Legally, the statute defines “conviction” as a “final judgment,” which the entry of a criminal judgment may well satisfy.  Practically, it is hard to imagine our courts adopting an interpretation that allows a felon to extend his entitlement to carry firearms for a year simply by filing a notice of appeal.

4. If, at trial, a FIP defendant offers to stipulate to the existence of a prior felony as a way of preventing the jury from finding out about the particular felony offense he committed, must the state accept the stipulation? No.  See State v. Jackson, 139 N.C. App. 721 (2000), rev’d on other grounds, 353 N.C. 495 (2001).  This is contrary to the rule in federal court, where the government must accept a defendant’s stipulation.  See Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997).

I hope this helps.  If there are other common FIP issues out there, let me know, and I’d be glad to add to the FIP FAQ.