For several years now, it has been an open question in North Carolina whether a justification defense to possession of firearm by felon is available. John Rubin blogged about the issue back in 2016, here. Our courts have assumed without deciding that the defense might apply in several cases but have never squarely held the defense was available, finding instead in each previous case that defendants didn’t meet the admittedly rigorous standards for the defense. This month, the Court of Appeals unanimously decided the issue in favor of the defendant. In State v. Mercer, ___ N.C. App. ___ (August 7, 2018), the court found prejudicial error in the trial judge’s refusal to instruct the jury on justification in a firearm by felon case and granted a new trial. Read on for more details.
North Carolina law prohibits a person who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm. The prohibition, set forth in G.S. 14-415.1, contains narrow exceptions, such as for antique firearms. The question has arisen in several cases whether a person with a prior felony conviction may possess a firearm if necessary to defend himself or others—in other words, whether the person may rely on a justification defense.