Along with questions regarding expungements, I routinely field calls concerning one’s ability to own or possess a firearm if previously convicted. In Mississippi the answer is quite simple, it is a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison for a convicted felon to possess a firearm. It is important to note it does not matter what type of felony, as the statute is clear it is ANY felony. However, Mississippi law does allow a convicted felon to petition the Court of conviction for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, which if granted would allow them to lawfully possess a firearm.
In pertinent part, Miss. Code Ann. Sec. 97-37-5(3) provides:
A person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of this state may apply to the court in which he was convicted for a certificate of rehabilitation. The court may grant such certificate in its discretion upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the applicant has been rehabilitated and has led a useful, productive and law-abiding life since the completion of his sentence and upon the finding of the court that he will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.
Feel free to post questions.
I field numerous inquiries from people interested in having a felony conviction expunged from their record. Unfortunately, most are disappointed when I explain the limited scope of Mississippi’s Expungement Statute found generally at Miss. Code Ann. Sec. 99-15-26. In short save for offenses which qualify for non-ajudication under 99-15-26, and were sentenced under those provisions, the vast majority of felony convictions can simply not be expunged.
The inability to have an offense expunged has serious conseqences for the offender attempting to successfully reenter society. It has become routine practice for even the most low skill jobs to conduct a background check as part of the hiring process. Thus, an offender’s prior record serves as a Scarlett Letter closing the door on numerous employment and educational opportunities, long after they have completed their sentences.
Although, Mississippi has yet to adopt equitable expungement, courts in other jurisdictions have used their inherent equitable powers to expunge criminal records. See, e.g., Bradford v. Mahan, 548 P. 2d at 1231; Natwig v. Webster, 562 F. Supp. 225 (D. R.I. 1983); United States v. Bohr, 406 F. Supp. 1218 (E. D. Wis. 1976); see generally O’Neal v. State, 185 Ga. App. 838, 365 S. E. 2d 894 (1988) (superior courts have authority to exercise all powers appertaining to their jurisdiction); Johnson v. State, 177 Ga. 881, 171 S. E. 699 (1933) (superior courts possess “inherent powers” not specifically granted by law). In deciding what constitutes the unusual or extreme case justifying expungement, courts have balanced the government’s needs for the records against the harm that results from maintaining the records. Natwig v. Webster, 562 F. Supp. at 228.
Given the long-term implications of a felony conviction, the Mississippi Supreme Court should sanction the use of a court’s equitable power to expunge criminal records when justice so requires.