Civil Liberties

When A Missed Connection Leads to Jail Time

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Eugene Volokh tells an infuriating tale of how circumstances beyond his control made one man a criminal. Gregg C. Revell got stuck in Newark because of a missed flight connection, with an unloaded gun legally checked in his luggage. Then:

He booked himself on the next flight, but the airline changed those plans. He was supposed to get on a bus, but his luggage didn't get on the bus with him. He found the luggage, but the bus had left, so he had to stay overnight at the hotel, with his luggage.

Aha! That's where the crime came in. The Firearms Owners' Protection Act protected Revell on the plane, and would have protected him on the bus. But the moment the luggage came into his hands or otherwise became "readily accessible" to him outside a car — here, when he got the luggage to go to the hotel, but it would have also happened if he had gotten the luggage to put it into the trunk of a rental car — he violated New Jersey law, which requires a permit to possess a handgun (and which bans the hollow-point ammunition that Revell also had in a separate locked container in his luggage). Revell was arrested when he checked in with the luggage at Newark Airport, and said (as he was supposed to) that he had an unloaded gun in a locked case in his luggage; he then spent four days in jail until he was released on bail. Eventually the New Jersey prosecutor dropped the charges against him, but Revell didn't get the gun and his other property back until almost three years later.

Revell sued, and lost; the Third Circuit concluded that once he took the luggage in hand in New Jersey, it became "readily accessible," and the FOPA immunity was lost.

The unfortunate decision in question.

[Hat tip: Dan Gifford]