Obamacare Ruling Can't Defeat Felon in Possession Charge

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 28, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal jury in Rhode Island convicted Arjusz Roszkowski of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and knowingly possessing a firearm with an altered serial number. Among his arguments on appeal, Roszkowski claimed the statutes of conviction were unconstitutional pursuant to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

Unsurprisingly, the First Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Roszkowski’s assertion that the Obamacare ruling held the key to his felon in possession appeal.

In what the appellate court described as "a quite different claim of error," Roszkowski argued that the felon firearm possession charges exceeded Congress' Commerce Clause authority, and are therefore unenforceable -- a claim which the court has "repeatedly and unreservedly rejected."

Despite that precedent, Roszkowski argued that, in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Sebelius, the First Circuit should revisit the issue.

In the Sebelius decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Congress lacked the requisite authority to enact the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause because the mandate compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, instead of regulating existing commercial activity. (Of course, the Court ultimately upheld the mandate under the Taxing Power.)

Seizing on what he perceived to be a new constitutional foothold, Roszkowski asked the First Circuit to reconsider its stance on felons with firearms, citing Chief Justice Robert's Sebelius opinion for the proposition that the simple possession of a firearm does not constitute commercial activity, and therefore cannot be regulated by Congress pursuant to the Commerce Clause.

The First Circuit disagreed, finding -- in stark contrast to the individual mandate in Sebelius -- that the felon firearm possession statutes do not "compel individuals to become active in commerce;" rather, they prohibit affirmative conduct that has an undeniable connection to interstate commerce. The court reasoned that, even if Sebelius changed the Supreme Court's Commerce Clause jurisprudence, it did nothing to undermine the validity of the statutes under which Roszkowski was convicted.

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