City Desk

Because of Heller Decision, D.C. Man Will Appeal 1996 Gun Conviction

Gun advocates will be happy to know that despite the fact he's already served his time, Dave Magnus may just get off.

Back in December 1996, he ran afoul of the law when police discovered two guns in his Petworth home. But in 2008, things started to look different: the Supreme Court ruling on District of Columbia v. Heller found fault with the city's stringent ban on firearms, pointing out that the Second Amendment protected the "right of persons to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes." So now, Magnus' arrest might not count.

According to court papers, in March 1996, D.C. police executed a search warrant on 814 Decatur St. NW. Inside, they found some incriminating evidence: One pound of marijuana, $9,900 in cash, and two loaded handguns. They also found Magnus.

Magnus was renting a room in the home. At some point during the police search, he made a bold move, admitting the guns were his. Although he said at the time that the marijuana wasn't his, Magnus' typed and signed confession linked him to the drugs, albeit in an extremely fishy way. It also gave some background as to how and why he obtained his firearms.

"I own both the .357 cal pistol and the .45 caliber semi-auto pistol found in my room," the confession said. "I bought both pistol [sic] on the street from two unknown people. The 357 I paid $150.00 for and the .45 cal pistol I paid 250.00 for." Magnus explained that he kept the guns around because he was afraid for his safety.

"I bought them because I was robbed in front of my house," the confession reads. As for the weed, that belonged to his roommate. If someone came to the house to "rob the marijuana," Magnus' confession said he would use the guns to protect the drugs and his roommate "from being harmed."

Magnus would go on to claim in court records that the statement about the weed "was the product of police overreaching and a material distortion" of what he told them.

In any event, facing charges related to unlawfully possessing a firearm and marijuana distribution, Magnus decided to plead guilty to the firearm charges. The marijuana charges were dropped.

He served a year of probation and in 2009, he went back to court to challenge his conviction. According to a decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals handed down Thursday, Magnus can now have a hearing, something a lower court blocked.

"At this stage, we see no other insurmountable barrier to Magnus' request for a hearing on his challenge to his convictions," the court ruled. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, William Miller, says prosecutors are reviewing the decision and the office has no further comment at this time.

The decision would seem to be good news for any District resident who's been convicted of carrying a pistol without a license, even if they pleaded guilty to it. As long as cops found the gun inside a home, and the occupant gave the impression that the weapon was for self-defense, things could be looking up.

Magnus' lawyer, Gaillard Hunt, says the National Rifle Association has lent support to Magnus, who, except for a similar gun possession conviction that's being similarly appealed, hasn't been in trouble with the law. Hunt says his client insists on keeping a gun around because in the 1990s, he was jarred by two events: His brother was murdered, and, in a separate incident, Magnus was carjacked.

Since the June 2008 Heller ruling, Hunt explains, defense lawyers have been claiming Second Amendment protections for their clients whenever they can—even when their clients are accused of something like robbery. Although that upsets many progressive lawyers like himself, Hunt says there's a silver lining with the Heller ruling.

"The fact that [Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin] Scalia has found the right for anyone to do something has got to gladden the heart of any liberal," he says. But it's hard to buy that Heller and its aftermath are in any way a good thing for the gun control advocates, who have pushed their case in hopes to curb violence.

Photo by Flickr user Kevitivity under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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  • Esteban G.

    Did Magnus *obtain* the guns legally? THat's what I can't tell from this story. It sounds like he did not. So why is the NRA defending him?

  • DonL

    Best case going is Williams v State in Maryland..Or could have been. Gun outside the home without a permit. Real easy one because the USSC has already ruled you can't license a fundamental right that's protected by the Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution. The case: Murdock v Penn 319 U.S. 105 (1943)...And "Bearing Arms", not in sensitive areas is a fundamental right.

    No NRA on that case...but they are interested in this case?...And a no win case at that...Wayne, you make too much money...Your $600,000 a year salary has warped your judgment.

  • Rick Mangus

    This is a case that is dead and should not be allowed in the courts, screw the NRA!

  • Marcos

    We need our guns more than ever to protect ourselves from the animals that are roaming the metro looking for people to beat up.

    And if you think this is unprecedented, it's not, it's called 'polar bear hunting' and it's the latest black teenager fad:

  • LOL

    This will likely be a really interesting case. The law that he was convicted under was declared unconstitutional so should his conviction be overturned? I don't know but I am looking forward to reading more about the case.