Supreme Court Clears Hunter On Muzzleloader Charge

September 23, 2016

Christopher Weeks donned camouflage and an orange vest and went hunting in February 2012 with a muzzleloader rifle that had been a Christmas gift from his wife.

Then the problems started: A state wildlife officer saw Weeks’ pickup truck parked along a road in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area in Santa Rosa County. And it turned out that Weeks had been convicted of a felony in the past, which led the officer to charge him with violating a law that bars convicted felons from possessing guns.

But more than four years later, the Florida Supreme Court gave Weeks a reprieve Thursday.

In a 5-2 decision, justices cleared Weeks on the gun-possession charge because state law treats antique firearms — and their replicas — different from other guns. The ruling said lawmakers exempted firearms manufactured in or before 1918 and their replicas from the prohibition on felons possessing guns.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente, delved into the details about what could be considered a replica weapon and, in a key issue, rejected arguments that Weeks’ rifle didn’t qualify because it also included a scope.

“In this case, Weeks wanted to go hunting and, with his wife and his father, researched the law and determined that sections (of state law) allowed him to possess a replica of a 1918 black powder muzzleloader rifle with a percussion cap ignition system. … His rifle was modified only with respect to the attached scope,” said Pariente’s opinion, joined fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Ricky Polston and James E.C. Perry. “When the felon-in-possession statute is construed in the light most favorable to the defendant, Weeks’ rifle’s attached scope did not remove his firearm from the statutory exemption.”

Justice Charles Canady wrote a concurring opinion that was joined by Labarga and Polston.

But Justice R. Fred Lewis, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Peggy Quince, wrote that scope disqualified the rifle from being considered a replica.

“Although the firearm may have relied upon an ignition mechanism used by similar firearms before 1918, it also featured a scope that was not found on weapons that were available in 1918,” Lewis wrote. “In my view, such a firearm cannot constitute an antique firearm as defined by Florida law.”

Weeks, whose father is a retired law-enforcement firearms instructor, pleaded no contest to the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to three years of probation, the majority opinion said. Despite the plea, he appealed based on arguments that the part of the law dealing with replica firearms was unconstitutionally vague.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in Weeks’ favor on the constitutional issue, spurring prosecutors to take the case to the Supreme Court. In her opinion Thursday, Pariente said it was unnecessary to rule on the constitutional issue because the case could be decided by interpreting the definitions and wording in state law.

In a brief filed last year, Weeks’ attorney wrote that the muzzleloader, which was purchased at a Bass Pro Shop, was similar to a gun from the Civil War era.

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.

Comments

12 Responses to “Supreme Court Clears Hunter On Muzzleloader Charge”

  1. David Huie Green on September 26th, 2016 6:06 pm

    stalking 2001
    domestic violence
    grand theft 1999 2015
    grand theft auto 2015
    dealing in stolen property 2000
    fugitive from justice 2001
    driving while license revoked or suspended multiple convictions 2014
    leaving scene of an accident 2014

    To be honest, he probably needs more than a muzzle loader.

    David for armed felons

  2. McFly on September 26th, 2016 2:20 am

    Hey McFly here:
    JustPlainCountry did the research and he’s right.
    OK for felon to have muzzle loader BUT NOT ok to hunt in Florida unless he has his rights restored.
    Statue is here in FWC publication:

    http://m.myfwc.com/hunting/regulations/general-information/

  3. what on September 25th, 2016 9:29 pm

    “The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in Weeks’ favor on the constitutional issue, spurring prosecutors to take the case to the Supreme Court.”

    Are these prosecutors insane? the law is clear anything 1918 and before replica or not is not considered by the rules. He did not break the law clearly, so why are they wasting time harassing this guy? A waste of tax payer money going after this guy who has clearly done nothing wrong. I think the prosecutors look like fools and are just going after him for no reason.

    Florida is arresting clowns, they need to get rid of these prosecutors.

  4. Don on September 24th, 2016 5:54 am

    Just don’t get a felony.. problem solved!

  5. Brenda Gail on September 24th, 2016 4:34 am

    I don’t mean to criticize the person who wrote this article but it was hard to get the facts out of. I do know it is legal for a convicted felon to hunt with a muzzleloader. Not just any muzzleloader will do, it must be considered an antique or a replica of an antique muzzleloader, adding nothing to modernize it. It will also be to that hunters advantage to be familiar with how the law reads in case you have to explain it to a wildlife officer. I personally saw a member of our hunting party pull out a book and read it to a gamewarden and show him the law stating it was legal. If he had not have known the interpretation of that law, and been able to show them, he might have went to jail that day only to fight it out in court later. Maybe this Supreme Court ruling will help the people who have already paid there debt society for breaking the law, be able to hunt again with something more than just a bow or crossbow. And maybe it will be clear to wildlife officers exactly what is legal. After he had his pow-wow with 2 or 3 different wardens that day, he didn’t have anymore problems, they remembered him. Lol. My friend dog hunted with his. It was a double barrel, so he had two shots and he made them count. He usually killed as many buck deer as the rest of us. It just took him longer to reload.

  6. Just plain country on September 23rd, 2016 7:14 pm

    This is from the FWC web site, ask FWC questions and answers.

    Question:

    Can I go hunting if I have a felony conviction?
    Answer:

    It is illegal in Florida for convicted felons to possess firearms, including muzzle loading guns, unless the convicted felon has had his/her civil rights restored and firearm authority restored by the state’s Clemency Board or the gun qualifies as an antique firearm under Florida statute 790.001(1). Properly licensed convicted felons may hunt with bows or crossbows during hunting seasons when such devices are legal for taking game. For additional information read the Hunting with a felony conviction web page.

  7. jeeperman on September 23rd, 2016 4:18 pm

    I must point out that it is not technically LEO that need to know every law there is on the books. It is the DA/SA/prosecutor, etc. that must decide.
    I suspect that the FWC officer saw a MODERN scope versus a period correct scope on the “replica” antique gun.

    I would have to say if he had a night vision scope on the “replica” antique gun, then my common sense says he voided the “replica” antique gun use statute.

    Perhaps the law needs to be changed to also state such guns can only be outfitted with period correct replica accessories.

  8. CwBuff on September 23rd, 2016 1:40 pm

    The Justices need to do their homework before they provide an opinion on a case such as this. To deliver an opinion that states that scopes were not available for firearms circa 1918 is an opinion in err. While very crude and primitive by our standards today, scopes were used in the civil war. I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that was before 1918.

  9. Just plain country on September 23rd, 2016 1:35 pm

    Florida Statute 790.001 [Definitions.—As used in this chapter, except where the context otherwise requires:
    (1) “Antique firearm” means any firearm manufactured in or before 1918 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar early type of ignition system) or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before or after the year 1918, and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1918, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.]

    This seems very reasonable to understand for us common folks. If they want the statute to mean something else then they need to rewrite it!!!

  10. Jimmy on September 23rd, 2016 10:41 am

    Jeeperman
    You are probably right, all lawinforcmen officers need to be educated on the laws.
    No tellig how much time and money it would save.

  11. Ernie on September 23rd, 2016 8:56 am

    Not that it matters, but:

    Telescopic sight – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telescopic_sight
    Wikipedia
    Jump to History – The first documented telescopic rifle sight was invented between 1835 and 1840. … Malcolm used an original design incorporating achromatic lenses like those used in telescopes, and improved the windage and elevation adjustments. They were between three and twenty magnification (possibly more).

  12. jeeperman on September 23rd, 2016 6:13 am

    And the next felon to go hunting with a replica antique gun with camo wrap will have to face the same charges.





Have a comment on this story?

We welcome your comments on this story, but there are some rules to follow::

(1) Be Nice. No comments that slander another, no racism, no sexism, no personal attacks.

(2) No Harrassing Comments. If someone says something bad about you, don't respond. That's childish.

(3) No Libel. That's saying something is not true about someone. Don't do it.

(4) Keep it clean. Nothing vulgar, obscene or sexually related. No profanity or obvious substitutions. Period.

(5) NorthEscambia.com reserves the right to remove any comments that violate our rules or we think to be inappropriate. We are not responsible for what is posted. Comments may not appear right away until they are approved by a moderator.

(6) Limit your comments to the subject in this story only, and limit comments to 300 words or less. Do not post copyrighted material. Comments will not be added to stories that are over 30 days old.

(7) No posts may advertise a commercial business or political group, or link to another commercial web site or political site of any kind.