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Can you file a motion to restore your Washington firearm rights in juvenile court?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | May 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

Once a juvenile, always a juvenile. 

I don't mean maturity wise, but for the purposes of restoring your firearms rights in Washington, it's accurate.

A juvenile court has jurisdiction over—you guessed it—juveniles.  But once you turn 18, you're an adult—at least in the eyes of the law, if not in the eyes of your parents—and the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over you.

That seems like a pretty basic legal rule, but nothing in the law is really that simple when you drill down into the details, which is what the Court of Appeals had to do in State v. Burke, a case decided last month.

As a juvenile, Ross Burke pleaded guilty to a felony in Clark County juvenile court, and the juvenile court took away his firearm rights as a result of his conviction.  Now, as an adult, Burke petitioned to get his gun rights back.  Everyone agreed that Burke was eligible for firearm restoration.

What was the problem?

Burke filed his petition in Clark County juvenile court, but the juvenile court said it didn't have jurisdiction.  Why?

Under RCW 9.41.040, you can file a petition to restore your firearm rights in “the court of record” that took away your rights in the first place.  The juvenile court said that juvenile courts are not courts of record, so it denied Burke's petition. 

Burke appealed.  The Court of Appeals said the juvenile court was wrong.  

Juvenile courts, the Court of Appeals held, are not independent courts.  They are actually just a separate branch of the superior court.  The Washington Supreme Court has repeatedly stated this in its opinions, the Court of Appeals also noted.  

Put less simply—and in more legalistic language:  “The juvenile court is merely the superior court sitting in a juvenile court session.” 

 And if a superior court is a “court of record” and a juvenile court is part of the superior court, then a juvenile court must be a “court of record.”

About Us:  Zuanich Law specializes in criminal and civil appeals, including DOL and family law appeals.  We also handle vacating, expunging, and sealing criminal records. Subscribe to our weekly criminal law newsletter.  

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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