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Woman convicted of bank fraud paid her debt to society. Now she wants a gun

More than a decade after she was convicted for check fraud, Melynda Vincent obtained an advanced degree and now works as a social worker, but a 1961 federal law prevents her from owning a gun.

DENVER (CN) — The burden is on the government when law-abiding citizens are deprived of firearms, a Utah woman told a 10th Circuit panel Tuesday, asking that her right to bear arms be reinstated more than a decade after she pleaded guilty to check fraud.

Melynda Vincent wrote a fraudulent check for $498.12 at a grocery store in 2008 when she was homeless and fighting off a drug addiction. She faced up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, but pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation without imprisonment.

Today she is a social worker who runs her own practice along with the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition.

As a single mother, she wants to own a firearm to protect her family, but is banned by a 1961 federal law due to her past. Vincent sued the federal government in 2020 and a federal judge dismissed the case in October 2021.

Vincent appealed, citing the 2022 Supreme Court decision in New York Pistol & Rifle Association v. Bruen as shifting the burden to the government to show why she should still be deprived her Second Amendment right.

In her appeal brief, Vincent detailed that for much of U.S. history, forgers simply had to pay back the amount stolen in double. Some states added on hard labor or solitary imprisonment as punishment. Most aggressively, Delaware gave forgers a public whipping of 39 lashes, plus an hour in the pillory and then finally, cut off the soft parts of their ears. But none of the original colonies deprived forgers of firearms.

“My client has made a remarkable transformation,” argued Vincent’s attorney Sam Meziani. “Nothing in her record indicates she would be violent. Instead, her record suggests she would be a responsible gun owner.”

Meziana argued that Bruen directs the government to justify any contemporary firearm ban with a valid historical analog — and it would be unable to do so in Vincent’s case.

“The historical analysis that Bruen calls for has never been applied for this situation,” Meziani added. “Bruen set forth a test and that’s the test that needs to govern this case.”

At first, the panel balked at the argument that Bruen suddenly reversed precedent set by the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller and the 2009 case U.S. v. McCane.

Bruen doesn’t require us to go back, there are certain areas that are explicitly preserved,” said Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Joseph Kelly, appointed by George W.H. Bush.

Kelly further questioned whether Bruen helped Vincent’s case at all.

“Didn’t they say also that it’s limited to 'law-abiding citizens' in that case, and they said it like 14 times over the course of the opinion,” Kelly asked. “They didn’t say 'nonviolent law-abiding people,' they said it’s limited to 'law-abiding citizens' to possess arms. Do we just ignore that, and say just because somebody’s been convicted of a felony that was nonviolent, they’re still law-abiding?”

In response, Department of Justice Attorney Kevin Soter argued that the Supreme Court has categorially upheld felon-based bans on firearms and Bruen doesn’t change that.

“This court read the statement that the court’s decision was not casting doubt on long-standing felony prohibitions for firearms,” Soter said.

U.S. Circuit Judge Robert E. Bacharach, appointed by Barack Obama, mulled over the idea that Bruen set the new law of the land.

“Generally we have an unwritten rule that our opinions speak for themselves,” Bacharach said.  “If Bruen is relying on the historical test that was set forth in Heller, why doesn’t that suggest that Bruen really did upend the law as the precedent for McCane?”

Donald Trump-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Joel M. Carson rounded out the panel. The judges did not indicate when or how they would decide the case.

“I don’t like that they called me a non-law-abiding citizen,” Vincent said outside the courtroom. “It’s not just access to firearms, it’s fair housing, it’s jobs. I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life serving this sentence when I paid my debt to society.”

Vincent commended the state of Utah for passing reform that allowed her to apply for a state pardon and move on. But there is a long way to go with federal law.

“We need federal expungement,” Vincent said. “I’m not a rapper, I don’t know Kim Kardashian. There’s no other way for me to close my case.”

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal, Law

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