Several years ago, a known person who was mentally ill, but had committed no crime and possessed firearms, went on a shooting spree killing a family member and a police officer and wounding another. In response the General Assembly passed the “Dangerous Person” statute.1 This allows police officers to confiscate firearms from persons they believe pose a risk to society. The person is then given an expedited hearing where the burden is on the State to prove they are a dangerous person or return the firearms.
This was challenged in Indiana’s appellate courts and was affirmed as constitutional as this firearm seizure statute was rationally calculated to advance the legitimate governmental purpose of prohibiting the mentally ill from possessing firearms. In other words, this was a valid exercise of police power. Further, the State is not required to provide the dangerous person with compensation for this seizure.2
Nevertheless, an alleged person is entitled to due process of law and a hearing and there are four reasons to make a challenge to such confiscation. First, unlike most every other areas of law, the burden is on the state to prove in open court before a neutral judge the alleged is indeed a “dangerous person.” Sometimes the facts and circumstances surrounding a judgment call to make a confiscation from an alleged “dangerous person” is mistaken and explained in a courtroom setting causes a reversal and return of the firearm(s).
Second, the first dangerous person hearing, if handled correctly, may pave the way for future hearings (although the burden is on the “dangerous person”) to find the person is no longer dangerous and return of firearms. However the wrong evidence or approach at the initial hearing where the State has the burden is likely to overshadow future hearing (for up to 5 years).
Third, a dangerous person finding will result in that person being disenfranchised of the core civil right to keep and bear arms. This means his or her handgun license will be suspended and revoked and the person would or could be a prohibited possessor of firearms and ammunition under federal law, a potential life bar. Any violation of possessing firearms or ammunition in this circumstance would be a felony. This could also be the case if a person who is, in fact, not a dangerous person fails to show up and is defaulted and found to be a dangerous person. This could have life-long consequences.
Fourth, more and more states and the federal government are compiling lists of individuals with mental illness (not without significant controversy) to prohibit firearms and ammunition purchases. How those lists may be used in the future is uncertain, but privacy rights will be balanced against public safety. Public safety policies are strong in nature and a “dangerous person” finding may have significant future consequences, including as it relates to employment.
As such, it is wise to consider counsel to handle this matter if you have your firearms confiscated as a “dangerous person.” An attorney familiar with this body of law has many tools to address a dangerous person case. We hope you find this blog post beneficial and educational. Understanding the law is key to using it to be a meaningful citizen. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle “dangerous person” and firearms confiscation cases in Indianapolis and across the State of Indiana. This is not intended to be a solicitation for legal services or legal advice. It is advertising material.