Baltimore Judge Strike Down “Gun Offender” Registry, Not on 2nd Amendment Grounds

April 10th, 2011

The City of Baltimore created a “gun offender ” registry that requires people who commit certain firearm offenses–ranging from shooting at someone to failing to pay a nominal licensing fee on time–need to add their names to a registry. The registry requires that they provide certain types of information to the police for a period of time. Effectively, this is like a sex offender registry for gun crime violators. According to this story in the Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Judge struck it down on vagueness grounds, as the law did not specify what types of information is required, but basically approved it on constitutional grounds.

Baltimore’s gun offender registry is unconstitutional, a Circuit Court judge ruled Friday, calling into question one of the city’s signature programs against gun violence.

Judge Alfred Nance said the Police Department had “failed or refused to comply” with establishing clear regulations for the registry, which required people convicted of gun crimes to provide addresses and other information with the city every six months for a period of three years.

The city judge also called the program, created in 2007, “unconstitutionally vague and overly broad.” Among the data registrants must provide, according to a list, is “any other information required by the rules and regulations adopted by the Police Commissioner,” language that Nance said appeared to give police “limitless discretion.” The city said it was considering whether to appeal.

Prosecutors argued that there is ample discussion of the expectations — at sentencing hearings, through a printed acknowledgment form, and inquiries at the time of registration, according to court papers

Nance disagreed, saying that placed the burden on defendants to “go to the bowels of the Police Department to learn what constitutes the law and then instantly comply with its requirements or be found in violation of the law.” Insley said the public defender’s office was concerned that police could use the registration process to quiz defendants about recent crimes or demand cooperation in other investigations.

Baltimore, undeterred by this pesky ruling, is continuing the operation of this program.

Sheryl Goldstein, director of the mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, said city officials are pleased that the opinion reaffirmed that the program did not conflict with state laws, a complaint that had been raised when the program was being created.

“This is one judge’s opinion, and one of the first on the issue,” she said. “We’re considering all of our legal options, and in the meantime, we’re going to keep the gun offender registry up and running.”

I am mixed about the ideas of these types of registries in general. Generally a person who serves a sentence for a major crime is subject to a period of supervised release, or something to that effect, after he is released. During that period, he is essentially under the watchful eye of probation officers, and cannot own a firearm, among other restrictions. If, at the conclusion of this period, he has not shown any reason to re-incarcerate him, I question the legitimacy of these prolonged deprivations of his liberty. I mean, if the cops want to keep such close tabs on this guy, then say he’s not safe, and lock him up. Otherwise, if you lack any proof, why should his liberty (we are talking about 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment rights, not even talking about 2nd Amendment rights) be limited for longer periods.