When you buy a home, finance a car, or even get a flu shot, it’s generally accepted - and required by law in many cases - that before taking an action that can have long-term or permanent harmful effects you must be given all of the information necessary to make an informed decision.
It seems natural that when a someone is making a decision that could lead to the loss of fundamental rights, they be fully informed of the ramifications of their decision. But in the case of people entering a guilty or no contest plea to a felony offense in California - which can result in being ineligible to own or possess a firearm - they are not always fully aware of those consequences before they enter their plea.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has legislation requiring defense counsel to inform their clients of the many adverse consequences a felony conviction may have, including the loss of Second Amendment rights.
A similar bill passed last year would have put the burden on judges to inform defendants but was vetoed by Gov. Brown, who said in his veto message that defense counsel, not judges, should bear that burden.
In a perfect world, Governor Brown would have a point -- and this bill would not even be necessary. As the introduction to AB 149 reminds us, a person “has the right to the aid of counsel in every stage of the proceedings.” That counsel should include, among other things, a discussion of the ramifications of a guilty plea.
But, unfortunately, many defendants are not fully informed of how a guilty plea could impact their fundamental rights and are later surprised that they are unable to legally possess a firearm, obtain or maintain state certifications or professional licenses, or are otherwise impacted.
While we support this bill, we believe it could be strengthened by adding a requirement that defense counsel inform a defendant of the potential loss of Second Amendment rights when pleading guilty to non-felony firearms prohibiting offenses.
But it is fully supportable, nonetheless, and needs your help to pass.