They didn’t tell me I couldn’t have a gun

You’re charged with domestic assault and your attorney works out a deal in exchange for a guilty plea. But your attorney doesn’t tell you that by pleading guilty, you’ll no longer be able to possess a firearm in Minnesota. Can your guilty plea be invalidated because of ineffective counsel?

Thomas Sames was arrested in Shakopee in May 2010 during a fight with his wife at their home. He admitted to slapping and kicking her. Officers also found a small bag of marijuana.

Under a plea deal, the marijuana possession charge was dropped, and Sames was placed on probation for a year on assault charges. He didn’t show up at a domestic abuse assessment meeting and shortly thereafter he appealed his conviction on the basis of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the conviction citing, a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ” a defendant’s guilty plea is voluntary if the defendant is ‘fully aware of the direct consequences’ when entering the plea.” Not being able to buy a firearm is not a direct consequence, the Court of Appeals said. Instead, it is what’s known as a “collateral consequence.”

Mr. Sames claimed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that overturned a man’s conviction because he was not advised that pleading guilty would result in deportation is, essentially, the same thing (I wrote about a similar case in Minnesota last May).

The claim is not without logic, the Court of Appeals said, “but the (Supreme) Court did not clearly state that the direct-collateral distinction should not be applied in cases not involving the risk of deportation. In the absence of such a statement, we are obligated to follow the precedent that binds us on that issue.”

Here’s the full opinion.

  • John P.

    I am having trouble with the whole concept of “direct” vs. “collateral” consequences. A consequence is a consequence as far as I can see. You do thing A, then thing B happens because you did thing A. Where does “collateral” fit in that scenario?

  • Jim Shapiro

    John P. – Well said.

    It’s a legalese distinction without a difference.

    Kinda like the military’s use of “collateral damage” instead of innocent victims.

  • Bob Collins

    Well, there has to be some line somewhere — or does there — for all the consequences of a plea bargain.

    If you plead guilty to drunk driving, for example, does the lawyer have a duty to tell you you won’t be able to fly an airplane for 30 days to a year?

    Is there a difference between the option of having a gun in your hand vs. having to leave your family and country?

    If we’re saying that ALL possible consequences of a guilty plea must be fully explained, couldn’t someone then just find some obscure “consequence” after making the plea, invoke it as a violation of a person’s Sixth Amendment rights and walk free?

  • Brian

    Totally agree with the court’s decision, but….

    I was kind of surprised the second amendment didn’t play more of a part in this case. You’d think the defense could argue that any consequence that may impact a person’s rights that are defined by the US constitution would be considered a direct consequence.

    But, I’m no lawyer…

  • kurt

    Re: Brian,

    This is not a federal case, and unless Thomas was looking to obtain a firearm that requires federal registration (fully automatic comes to mind), then this is a state case. As such, being convicted of a felony deprives you of a few of your rights, voting, firearm ownership as example. Sometimes you are able to reinstate those rights, but it is not easy nor guaranteed.

    The other thing is, Thomas could have asked about indirect repercussions of a felony conviction before entering his plea. It does become incumbent at some point that the accused take some control of their destiny.

    The court’s opinion seems right to me.

  • Will Young

    There are plenty of crimes of which we are all unaware in Minnesota. If we can be prosecuted for them because we have constructive knowledge (we could look them up), it only makes sense that part of our sentence can be things of which we only have constructive knowledge.