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Glitch In New Gun Law Has Judge Over A Barrel Law Requires ‘Rehabilitation’ For Crimes, Offers No Guidelines

Ed Mitchell tried to get his rights to own a gun back this week by breaking new legal ground. He didn’t get very far.

He’ll have to wait a little longer to see if he is “rehabilitated” from his 14-year-old misdemeanor conviction for simple assault.

“I felt like it was a big run-around,” said Mitchell, a 42-year-old auto body repairman who lives in the Spokane Valley. “I’m disappointed in the way things went.”

Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor said she hopes Mitchell and others struggling with the consequences of a 1994 law can be patient awhile longer.

“I know it’s real frustrating, but it’s not just something you can slap together,” O’Connor said.

Mitchell’s attorney, John Clark, has asked the court to issue a certificate of rehabilitation, which the new law says is required before anyone convicted of a crime connected to domestic violence can own a gun.

The law doesn’t say how a person gets such a certificate, O’Connor said. Nor does it spell out what a court should consider before issuing one.

Mitchell admits he was guilty of simple assault, a misdemeanor, some 14 years ago. He said he came home after having too many drinks, and hit his wife when she took a bottle away from him. She called the police; he was found guilty and spent the weekend in jail.

He’s never had another conviction; he and his wife are celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary this year and recently adopted a daughter after an extensive background check by the state.

Last fall, Mitchell tried to buy a handgun from a Spokane store. The application was rejected by police because of his assault conviction.

Police officials also told him that under the law, it is a felony for him to be in possession of the guns he already owns. Mitchell stored his guns in a safe and went hunting for an attorney.

He was referred to Clark by a gun store. The attorney tried to pull Mitchell’s file at District Court and discovered it no longer existed. It’s too old. The conviction, however, remains on his record. That’s all that matters to the law.

“The government has set up the process to take away his rights, but it hasn’t set up the process to restore his rights,” said Clark, who is angry over the delays. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.”

Not so fast, said O’Connor. If people are going to be issued a document that says they are rehabilitated, there must be some clear understanding of what that means and how it is determined.

“There have to be some safeguards to show what the people are saying is true,” she said. “If the court is supposed to make a judgment, what information does the court need?”

The law doesn’t say. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and record-keepers need to discuss the best way to set up the process.

One of the biggest problems will concern people like Mitchell, who was convicted in Spokane County District Court so long ago that the records have been destroyed.

“If I have to review something a lower court has done, I have to have a document,” O’Connor said. “If there’s no document, that’s going to be difficult.”

By mid-February, O’Connor hopes to have a proposal for Superior Court judges to review. Shortly afterward, she hopes to have forms and instructions that will help people through a new process.

She asked that people seeking restoration of their gun rights be patient just a little longer.