Full Faith and Credit, Pardons, and Gun Rights

From Blackwell v. Haslam (Tenn. Ct. App. June 28, 2013) (paragraph breaks added):

This appeal involves the Full Faith and Credit Clause and firearm rights. The petitioner was convicted of felony drug offenses in Georgia. The State of Georgia granted the petitioner a full pardon for his crimes; his Georgia pardon expressly restored his right to possess a firearm.

The petitioner now resides in Tennessee. A Tennessee statute provides that it is a felony for a person who has been convicted of a felony drug offense to possess a firearm, and it does not make an exception for persons who have been pardoned for their crime. The petitioner filed this declaratory judgment action against the State of Tennessee, seeking a declaration that, because he received a pardon for his drug offenses in Georgia, he can purchase or possess a firearm in Tennessee without violating the Tennessee statute.

The trial court held in favor of the petitioner, concluding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires Tennessee to recognize Georgia’s pardon in full and to permit the petitioner to carry a firearm in Tennessee. The State of Tennessee now appeals.

On appeal, we consider the public-policy exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. We hold that Tennessee’s public policy on the restoration of firearm rights for a convicted non-violent drug felon is not entirely inconsistent with Georgia’s public policy, so the public-policy exception to full faith and credit is not applicable in that situation. However, Tennessee public policy proscribes the restoration of firearm rights for a convicted violent drug felon, contrary to Georgia’s public policy allowing the restoration of firearm rights for all felons, violent or not. This Tennessee policy implicates public safety so as to warrant application of the public-policy exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause under the appropriate circumstances….

[T]his case was decided based on the pleadings alone, and the pleadings do not give details about the circumstances of Mr. Blackwell’s crimes. Specifically, Mr. Blackwell’s complaint states that he was pardoned for “drug felonies,” but it does not indicate whether the drug felonies of which Mr. Blackwell was pardoned involved the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. For this reason, the case should be remanded for further proceedings.

On remand, the State bears the “stern and heavy” burden of proving that Mr. Blackwell’s crimes involved the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. If this is so, then giving full faith and credit to Georgia’s restoration of Mr. Blackwell’s firearm rights would be directly contrary to Tennessee’s strong public policy against the restoration of firearm rights for one convicted of such a felony. In other words, requiring Tennessee to extend full faith and credit to Georgia’s restoration of Mr. Blackwell’s firearm rights under those circumstances would require “too large a sacrifice by [Tennessee] of its interests in a matter with which it is primarily concerned” — protecting public safety and preventing crime.

Therefore, we vacate the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings to Mr Blackwell. We remand the case to the trial court for the State to have the opportunity to show that giving full faith and credit to Georgia’s restoration of Mr. Blackwell’s firearm rights would offend Tennessee’s public policy against the restoration of firearm rights for a person convicted of a felony that involved the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon, and further related proceedings.

Note that there’s some dispute about whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause even applies to pardons, when a person was convicted in State A and then pardoned by State A, and then State B is deciding what collateral effect to give to the State A conviction (e.g., when calculating a person’s criminal history because he has now committed a crime in State B, or deciding on gun rights or licensing or what have you). See People v. Laino (Cal. 2004).

Note also (just to fend off an argument that often arises about a different guns/Full Faith and Credit matter) that the fact that a person is licensed to do something in State A (carry a gun, practice law, drive) doesn’t mean that State B must honor that license when that person wants to do the same thing in State B. Full Faith and Credit does not apply to that, though many states may choose to honor out-of-state licenses as a matter of policy (as, for instance, with driver’s licenses).