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Manasquan, NJ --(Ammoland.com)- The New Jersey Appellate Division decided two cases this week in support of fair treatment for those who received mental health care, but who no longer suffer from such disabilities in such a manner that would handicap them in the safe handling of firearms.

The law firm of Evan F. Nappen, Attorney at Law PC of Eatontown, New Jersey, (www.evannappen.com) represented both of these appellants.

Both cases were partially funded by the NRA’s Civil Rights Defense Fund.

IN RE M.L., PETITIONER FOR EXPUNGEMENT
Two years ago, M.L., a retired law enforcement officer with over 25 years of service, suffered from a bout of depression, from which he had significantly improved. He voluntarily admitted himself to a mental health facility and, thereafter, received outpatient treatment. He sought to have his voluntary commitment records expunged to relieve the stigma associated with his hospital stay and to help him gain employment as a security guard. M.L.’s treating doctor testified that M.L. was presently of sound mental health. Despite the above, the trial court denied the petition.

Louis P. Nappen, Esq., appeared on behalf of M.L. both at the trial court and on appeal. On appeal, Mr. Nappen argued that the Ocean County Trial Court erred in applying the wrong standard of review and in failing to conclude M.L. met all requirements for expungement under the statute. The Appellate Division agreed, finding that “the trial court’s opinion appeared to ignore the provisions of the statute” and that “the denial of expungement premised upon a possible future weapons application is erroneous.”

It was clear that the petitioner received unfair treatment from the trial judge, and on February 8, the Appellate Division ordered, “”We conclude the trial court’s review was deficient as it failed to comply with the requisites of the statute. Accordingly, we reverse the October 15, 2010 order and remand the matter for consideration by a different Law Division judge[.]“

When asked about the decision, Attorney Nappen stated, “Basically, the judge refused to apply the statute to the facts of the case, but instead promoted an anti-gun agenda. I am glad that the Appellate Division saw the unfairness of the situation.”

This decision is available at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a1499-10.pdf .

IN RE WEAPONS OF A.S.
Following a dismissed temporary restraining order (regarding which the wife’s allegation could not be proven), the State moved to forfeit A.S.’s firearms that were seized in accordance with the temporary order.  Firearms were not involved in any way in his wife’s allegations of domestic violence. A.S. has no criminal record or other absolute bars to firearm possession.

Despite the above, the prosecutor insisted on a mental health evaluation based on information provided by the wife that A.S had threatened and attempted suicide in the past. Appellant testified that he has suffered from chronic back pain since 1997, and he has also been diagnosed with depression. Appellant testified that he had been under the care of psychiatrists.

At the hearing, A.S. presented a doctor’s letter in response to the prosecutor’s demand that attested to A.S.’s present mental health stability. Despite the doctor’s letter, the trial court granted the State’s petition for forfeiture.

The defendant appeared pro se at the Sussex County Trial Court, but hired Evan F. Nappen, Attorney at Law, PC for the appeal. Louis P. Nappen, Esq., argued the appeal for the firm.

On February 6, the Appellate Division found that the appellant was misled at the trial court level. “He should not have been deprived of fair notice that the State would not accept [his doctor’s] letter as satisfying the statutory requirement.”

The Court stated, “Over appellant’s earlier objections, the court had granted two adjournments to the State to prepare its case. It should also have granted a continuance of the hearing to appellant to seek more evidence of his mental fitness.” Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the matter to reopen the hearing and permit A.S. to present additional evidence of his fitness to possess his firearms.

This decision is available at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a3192-10.pdf .

The above decisions also mirror the Appellate Division decision in State v. Pyskaty, July 8, 2011, where the Court reversed a Monmouth County trial court that refused to consider a doctor’s written evaluation in support of the return of firearms and firearm rights. The Pyskaty case was argued by Richard V. Gilbert, Esq., also of the Nappen Firm, and is available at http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/courts/appellate/a3742-09.opn.html.

When asked about the A.S. and M.L. appeals, Attorney Nappen commented, “These victories do not just support firearm rights, but also civil rights for those who face unfair treatment by the courts or by the state as a result of seeking mental health treatment. The Appellate decisions send a message that judges should stop discouraging people from seeking mental health counseling at the fear of losing their personal reputations and firearm rights.”

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