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Woman wins a gun, paperwork error gets her charged with a felony

by | Nov 28, 2017 | Criminal Defense

A 46-year old Tyrone woman probably thought she had gotten lucky when she won a drawing for a gun. She had entered the raffle at a Rush Township business, and the prize was a Remington 597 .22 caliber long rifle. She went to pick up the gun in January of last year.

The problem was, she may have been legally ineligible to possess a firearm due to a prior commitment for mental health issues. Alternatively, she may not have fully understood what the paperwork was asking.

Whatever the reason, when she reached the question about whether she had ever been committed to a mental institution, she initially checked “no.” Later, she changed her answer to “yes” and then completed a Pennsylvania Instant Check System Challenge form in an apparent attempt to dispute the issue. The Pennsylvania Instant Check System provides background records related to whether an individual is eligible to own a gun, and applicants do have the right to dispute a denial.

Assuming the woman had been committed to a mental institution at one time (which is more common than you may think), it’s possible it was for short-term emergency treatment under Section 302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act.

Such a commitment is done by a doctor or hospital without the due process protections one would have in court. For example, a person considering suicide could be committed for a few days’ treatment under Section 302. This would not involve a court commitment hearing.

In such a case, it might not even be clear that such a commitment counted toward firearms ineligibility, although it can. It wouldn’t be surprising for a person to be confused about which box to check. Since she changed her answer and filed a challenge form, it appears she was not trying to hide her commitment. She may merely have thought it shouldn’t permanently keep her from owning a gun.

However, the changed answer raised a red flag for the state police, who assigned a trooper to investigate. Last week, she was charged with a felony — making a materially false written statement in relation to the purchase, transfer or delivery of a firearm. She was also charged with the misdemeanor-level offense of false swearing in an official proceeding.

After an arraignment, the woman was released on her own recognizance. It will be interesting to see if the courts find her mix-up should really count as a felony-level misdeed.