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Do you have to file a motion to restore your firearm rights in more than one court in Washington?

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

Before you can restore you firearm rights in Washington, you first need to figure out in which Court you have to file your motion.

The answer depends on where you live and what courts took away your gun rights to begin with.

In Washington, you can file a restoration motion in one of two courts: (1) the superior court in the county in which you currently reside; or (2) The court of record that terminated your right to restore firearms.  

The most important of this sentence is the OR.  You do not have to file a motion to restore your firearm rights in more than one jurisdiction.

Fortunately, the Court of Appeals made this point clear in a recent case decided in August called State v. Manuel

A. The Facts 

James Manuel had multiple felony convictions in King County Superior Court and Pierce County Superior Court.  He also had a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction in Lakewood Municipal Court.  Manuel lived in Pierce County. 

Manuel filed a motion to restore his firearm rights in King County Superior Court.  The government agreed that Manuel was eligible (he didn't have any violent convictions or sex offenses).  

But the government argued that Manuel could ONLY restore his firearm rights for his King County felony cases, not his Pierce County cases (Lakewood is in Pierce County).  He would have to file another motion in Pierce County for that one.  The trial judge agreed and signed a limited firearm restoration order.

Manuel appealed, arguing that King County should have fully restored his gun rights.  The Court of Appeals agreed with Manuel.

B. The Court of Appeals' Analysis

Look at the statute, the Court of Appeals said.  

RCW 9.41.040(4)(b) says that you can file a motion to restore firearm rights in "the court of record" that took away your gun rights.  And it's clear from prior appellate case law that the superior court is a "court of record."  

The State focused on the word "the" in the statute.  In the State's view, you can only file a motion in the particular court that entered the firearm termination order.  If the statute had said "any court of record" instead of "the court of record," the State argued, that would be a different story.  

Fair enough, the Court said, but the statute is ambiguous--i.e. you could argue it that way, but you could also argue (as Manuel did) that "the court of record" really just means "any" court of record in Washington that terminated his firearm rights.

If the wording is ambiguous, then courts have to look somewhere else to determine what a statute means. In this case, the Court looked at something called the "rule of lenity."

Basically, the rule of lenity says that if a statute is ambiguous, the courts interpret it in favor of the defendant.  Think of this as the legal equivalent to the "tie goes to the runner" in baseball.

Both Manuel and the State agreed that King County Superior Court was an appropriate court in which Manuel could have filed his restoration motion.  The only issue, then, is whether Manuel should have to file another restoration motion in Pierce.  

Here the rule of lenity favors the defendant.  As the Court wrote, "since the statute grants to Manuel the right to choose the venue in which he files," he should not have to "seek restoration in a piecemeal process from multiple courts."  

Therefore, a defendant can seek full restoration of firearm rights from ANY superior court that entered an order terminating the defendant's firearm rights, EVEN if the defendant had prior felony convictions from OTHER superior courts.  

About Us:  Zuanich Law focuses on criminal and civil appeals and post-conviction motions, including restoring firearm rights, vacating convictions, and sealing court records. 

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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