SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A single mother with two advanced degrees who works as a licensed clinical social worker wants to buy a gun to protect herself and to go hunting and target shooting with her family.
But a federal felony conviction in 2008 for trying to cash a fraudulent $498.12 check at a Salt Lake grocery store years ago prohibits Mindy Vincent from ever possessing a firearm.
“I can’t even be in a car with a bullet,” the Heber City resident said.
State and federal laws generally bar convicted felons from possessing a gun. A person found in violation of the law could be sent to prison.
Vincent has too many charges to have her criminal record expunged in state court, but she has applied to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for a pardon. There is no expungement law in the federal system and federal courts have no inherent authority to expunge criminal convictions.
Short of a presidential pardon, Vincent can’t have her Second Amendment rights restored, even though she has turned her life around and been sober for nearly 14 years. For that reason, she is suing the federal government and the state of Utah.
“It’s about more than just my firearm rights. It’s about the fact that I’m not ever given an opportunity for redemption no matter how much I’ve done, no matter how much I’ve accomplished, no matter how good I am in my community, I’m still always labeled a felon,” said the 42-year-old mother of a 19-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
Vincent isn’t alone in her quest to own a gun again.
At least three others are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their cases. One of them, Torres v. U.S., references a Utah law that makes it a felony for making an illicit recording in a movie theater on the second offense.
The high court has not agreed to take on those arguments, but the issue is of keen interest to newly appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
In a dissenting opinion in a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals case, Barrett concluded that only people convicted of dangerous felonies should lose their right to keep and bear arms. She traced the history of the Second Amendment and the punishing of convicted felons to colonial times.
History, she wrote, is consistent with common sense that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns, but that power extends only to people who are dangerous.
“In sum, founding-era legislatures categorically disarmed groups whom they judged to be a threat to the public safety,” Barrett wrote. “But neither the convention proposals nor historical practice supports a legislative power to categorically disarm felons because of their status as felons.”
In that case, Rickey Kanter, of Mequon, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty in 2011 to one count of mail fraud for selling therapeutic shoe inserts that he misrepresented as Medicare-approved through his company, Dr. Comfort. He was sentenced to a year and one day in prison. After serving his time and paying restitution, he challenged state and federal laws banning felons from owning guns.
The majority on the three-judge panel, however, ruled that the federal and Wisconsin laws were substantially related to the governmental objective of keeping firearms away from those convicted of serious crimes. Because Kanter was convicted of a serious federal felony, his challenge to the constitutionality of the laws is without merit, the judges wrote.
A lower court ruling also found that courts are not equipped to predict which nonviolent felons pose a risk and which do not, while the the appeals court noted several studies that have found a connection between nonviolent offenders like Kanter and a risk of future violent crime.
Vincent’s attorneys, Sam Meziani and Jeremy Delicino, argue that laws barring convicted felons from having guns should be more narrowly drawn to exclude people like Vincent who have rehabilitated and redeemed themselves and proven they are deserving of society’s trust to have a gun.
Her nonviolent crime is not the type of offense that allows the government to permanently deprive her of gun ownership and they say it’s unconstitutional to apply the law to her.
“Ms. Vincent now brings this lawsuit to remove the scarlet letter imposed by current law and to restore rights that can no longer be indiscriminately withheld by legislative fiat,” they wrote in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
The attorneys aren’t contending that felons should always be allowed to have guns after they have served their time. The government, they say, can only take away the right to bear arms from people it deems dangerous.
But Vincent, they said, has no history of violence and has led an exemplary life since overcoming her drug addiction.
The law, according to the lawsuit, has offered her neither forgiveness nor redemption, but consigns her to a lifetime as a second-class citizen by permanently stripping of her Second Amendment rights.
Born in Bear Lake, Vincent grew up in a poor, dysfunctional family where there was trauma and abuse. She started injecting and cooking methamphetamine at age 15. She turned to crime to feed her habit. After her arrest in 2007, Vincent entered treatment for her drug and alcohol addiction and graduated from drug court.
In the midst of her recovery, she was convicted in federal court of trying to cash a fake check. Rather than send her to prison, the late U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced her to probation and gave her a second chance.
Vincent made the most of it.
With a new lease on life, she earned a behavioral science degree from Utah Valley University followed by master’s in social work from the University of Utah. She opened a private practice in therapy and counseling.
In 2018, she completed a master’s degree in public administration at the U. She is the founder and executive director of the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit that works to develop science-driven drug and criminal justice reform policies. She also started the first legal syringe exchange service in the state.
Meziani said he can count on one hand the number of clients like Vincent he has had in his legal career. He described her turnaround as rare and remarkable.
“That’s not to say that should be the requirement. You shouldn’t have to go to the great lengths that she’s gone to in order to have your Second Amendment rights restored. But if she can’t get her rights restored, I’m not sure that there’s anyone who could,” he said.
Vincent said once people have served their sentences, that should be the end of it, though she agrees repeat violent offenders should not have guns. But people shouldn’t have to “grovel and beg forgiveness” to get their rights back. She said she hopes her lawsuit provides a pathway for redemption in the federal system.
“This is about so much more than me. There are so many people who are just like me who have turned their lives around, they’ve given back to their community, they’re an asset to their community, yet they can’t have their God-given rights as an American,” Vincent said.
Vincent said she owns property and ATVs at Bear Lake and enjoys target shooting with her family on weekends. And as a single mother, “I just want the right to defend my home with a firearm if I so need to.”
Although the Supreme Court could take up the issue and a ruling would impact their case, Vincent’s attorneys are pressing ahead with the lawsuit. It’s also possible a judge could put Vincent’s case on hold pending a high court decision.
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