WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for an appeal by a self-styled “constitutional bounty hunter” who brought guns to the U.S. Capitol.
Rodney Class understood that he gave up various constitutional rights when he pleaded guilty in 2014 to one of the charges against him, but his plea did not explicitly state that he waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of the gun law on appeal.
Class did just that when appealed four days later, but the D.C. Circuit agreed with the government that his right to appeal had been waived.
The Supreme Court reversed 6-3 on Wednesday, four months after oral arguments.
“In sum, the claims at issue here do not fall within any of the categories of claims that Class’ plea agreement forbids him to raise on direct appeal,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “They challenge the government’s power to criminalize Class’ (admitted) conduct. They thereby call into question the Government’s power to ‘constitutionally prosecute’ him. A guilty plea does not bar a direct appeal in these circumstances.”
While the lead opinion clocks in at 11 pages, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined an 18-page dissent by Justice Samuel Alito.
“I fear that today’s decision will bedevil the lower courts,” Alito said, noting that guilty pleas resolve roughly 95 percent of felony cases in the federal and state courts.
As such, Alito added, it is “critically important that defendants, prosecutors, and judges understand the consequences of [them].”
“In sum, the governing law in the present case is Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” he wrote. “Under that tule, an unconditional guilty plea waives all nonjurisdictional claims with the possible exception of the ‘MennaBlackledge doctrine’ created years ago by this court. That doctrine is vacuous, has no sound foundation, and produces nothing but confusion. At a minimum, I would limit the doctrine to the particular types of claims involved in those cases. I certainly would not expand its reach.”
Earlier in the dissent, Alito groused that “there is no justification for the muddle left by today’s decision.”
Class was arrested on May 30, 2013, after a police officer spotted weapons when he peeked through the windows of the Jeep that Class had left in a secured parking lot near the U.S. Capitol.
Though only a large knife and an empty gun holster were visible from the outside, a police search of the vehicle uncovered three guns and multiple knives.
A veteran with a concealed carry-permit in North Carolina, Class had gone to Capitol Hill that day in the hopes of getting lawmakers to officially designate him as a “constitutional bounty hunter.”
As he explained to the FBI after his arrest, Class saw himself as a “private attorney general” who travels the country with weapons to enforce laws against judges he believes are ignoring their duties.
Though Class never threatened to use a gun against a judge, he planned to make his way to Pennsylvania after leaving D.C. because he believed a federal judge there needed his intervention.