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Frank E. Little v. Pennsylvania State Police

August 10, 2011

FRANK E. LITTLE, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, RESPONDENT



Per curiam.

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

OPINION

Submitted: April 29, 2011

Frank E. Little (Little) petitions for review from an order of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), appointed by the Office of Attorney General (OAG), upholding the denial of Little‟s application to purchase a firearm.*fn1 At issue is whether Little‟s court-ordered stay in a state hospital for mental health treatment and evaluation prior to criminal sentencing precludes his purchase of a firearm because he was "committed to a mental institution" under Section 922(g)(4) of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (Federal Act) 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(4). Under the facts of this case, we conclude his treatment and evaluation constitute a disqualifying commitment. Accordingly, we affirm the ALJ‟s order.

I. BACKGROUND

In September 2008, Little attempted to purchase a firearm. An examination of Little‟s criminal history through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) revealed a possible domestic violence matter that could disqualify him from purchasing the firearm. Notes of Testimony before ALJ, 3/22/2010 (N.T.), at 19. Little‟s application to purchase the firearm was denied.

In October 2008, Little filed a PICS challenge with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP). In May 2009, PSP informed him his challenge was denied in relevant part because his "involuntary commitment in 1993 is prohibiting" under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(4). Letter from PSP to Little (5/18/2009) (Denial Letter). Little appealed this decision pursuant to Section 9152 of the Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. C.S. §9152.

A hearing was convened before the ALJ. At the hearing, a PSP investigator discussed research into Little‟s background. The investigator explained his initial PICS review suggested a disqualifying domestic relations incident. N.T. at 19. PSP inquired further with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) and obtained additional records.

PSP determined Little was charged with simple assault (misdemeanor 2) arising from Little‟s allegedly pushing his mother-in-law down a set of stairs, causing bodily injury. Id.; Information; Criminal Complaint. Ultimately, Little was found guilty of this crime. The investigator acknowledged the conviction could not be classified as disqualifying domestic violence since it involved Little‟s mother-in-law and not his wife. N.T. at 20.

However, the investigator testified that Section 922(g)(4) of the Federal Act applied because it precludes persons "involuntarily committed to a mental institution" from acquiring guns. N.T. at 30-31. The investigator discovered a subsequent trial court order, issued prior to Little‟s sentencing, which directed that Little be "committed to Mayview State Hospital for a period not to exceed 90 days" pursuant to "Section 405 of the Mental Health Procedures Act of 1976 [(MHPA)]."*fn2 Tr. Ct. Order 9/1/1993; N.T. at 21, 27-28; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 132a (emphasis added). The trial court based its commitment order on a psychiatrist‟s recommendation that treatment and evaluation might be helpful.

The trial court set forth two purposes behind the commitment: to obtain "a psychiatric/psychological examination as an aid to the court in sentencing;" and, to have the hospital‟s treatment team "plan [an] appropriate course of treatment to include psychotropic medications, therapy and any other therapeutic modality they deem appropriate." Tr. Ct. Order 9/1/1993; R.R. at 132a.

The investigator stated the trial court‟s action constituted a commitment under Section 922(g)(4) of the Federal Act. It therefore precluded Little from purchasing a firearm. See Denial Letter.

At the hearing, Little did not dispute he was at the state hospital for a time. He also did not testify his stay was voluntary. Instead, he argued he was not actually committed to the state hospital, but was merely placed there for evaluation. He argues this distinction is crucial. Thus, his state hospital stay was not disqualifying under the Federal Act.

Citing federal and state authority, the ALJ concluded Little was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital by the trial court and was therefore disqualified from purchasing the firearm. Accordingly, the ...


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