Dickerson v. New Banner Inst., Inc.,
460 U.S. 103 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dickerson v. New Banner Inst., Inc., 460 U.S. 103 (1983)

Dickerson v. New Banner Institute, Inc.

No. 81-1180

Argued November 29, 1982

Decided February 23, 1983

460 U.S. 103


Title IV of the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1), makes it unlawful for any person "who has been convicted . . . of . . . a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" to ship, transport, or receive any firearm or ammunition in interstate commerce. Title IV also makes it unlawful to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without a license from the Secretary of the Treasury. One ground for denial of a license is where the applicant is under the prohibitions imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1), and if the applicant is a corporation, a license will be denied if a person with power to direct the management of the corporation is under such prohibitions. One Kennison, the chairman of the board and a shareholder of respondent corporation, after plea negotiations, pleaded guilty in an Iowa state court to the state crime of carrying a concealed handgun. This crime was punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. The state court, however, pursuant to an Iowa statute, "deferred" entry of a formal judgment and placed Kennison on probation. At the completion of his probation term, he was discharged, also pursuant to a state statute, and his record with respect to the deferred judgment was expunged. Subsequently, respondent applied to the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Bureau) for licenses as a firearms and ammunition dealer and manufacturer, but did not disclose Kennison's plea of guilty to the Iowa concealed weapon charge. The licenses were issued but were later revoked when the Bureau learned of the Iowa charge. The District Court upheld the revocation, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although Kennison had been "convicted" of an offense that triggered firearms disabilities, that fact could not serve as a predicate for a Gun Control Act violation or license revocation, because the conviction had been expunged under the Iowa deferred judgment procedure.

Held: The firearms disabilities imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1) apply to Kennison, and were not removed by the expunction of the record of his guilty plea to the concealed weapon charge. Pp. 460 U. S. 110-122.

Page 460 U. S. 104

(a) For purposes of the federal gun control laws, a plea of guilty to a disqualifying crime and its notation by a state court, followed by a sentence of probation, is equivalent to being "convicted" within the language of §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1). Pp. 460 U. S. 111-114.

(b) Iowa's expunction provisions, as carried out in Kennison's case prior to respondent's license applications, did not nullify his conviction for purposes of the federal statute. Expunction under state law does not alter the legality of the previous conviction, does not open the way to a license despite the conviction, and does not signify that the defendant was innocent of the crime to which he pleaded guilty. Expunction in Iowa means no more than that the State has provided a means for the trial court not to accord a conviction certain continuing effects under state law. Pp. 460 U. S. 114-115.

(c) Provisions of the federal gun control laws other than the provisions in question, as well as related federal statutes, support the conclusion that Congress did not intend expunction of a state conviction automatically to remove the firearms disabilities imposed by §§ 922(g)(1) and (h)(1). Pp. 460 U. S. 115-118.

(d) There is nothing in the legislative history of Title IV or related federal statutes to suggest an opposite intent. Title IV's purpose to curb crime by keeping firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetency, would be frustrated by a ruling that gave effect to state expunctions. In the absence of a plain indication to the contrary, it is assumed that Congress did not intend to make the application of Title IV dependent on state law. Title IV is carefully constructed gun control legislation. Congress knew the significance and meaning of the language it employed. Pp. 460 U. S. 118-121.

(e) A rule that would give effect to expunction under varying state statutes would seriously hamper effective enforcement of Title IV. Pp. 460 U. S. 121-122.

649 F.2d 216, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined,post, p. 460 U. S. 122.

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