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Date: 09-03-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. JAMES MICHAEL BARTLEY

Case Number: 20-30034

Judge: A. Wallace Tashima


Plaintiff's Attorney: Francis Joseph Zebari (argued), Assistant United States
Attorney; Bart M. Davis, United States Attorney; United
States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:

St. Louis, MO - Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


St. Louis, MO - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with a unlawful possession of a firearm charge.

In 2011, Bartley was stopped for driving under the
influence (DUI). After Bartley’s defense counsel questioned
his competence to stand trial, the state court ordered a mental
evaluation under Idaho Code § 18-211. The psychologist
who performed the evaluation found that Bartley “appeared
genuine and consistent in his presentation and belief, stating
that he is the son of God, experiencing persecution by those
who do not believe him. This appears to be a fixed delusional
belief with prominent religious features with possible
auditory hallucinations.” The psychologist believed that
Bartley’s delusional disorder would prevent him from
assisting in his defense.
Based on its review of the mental evaluation, the court
found that Bartley lacked fitness to stand trial and lacked the
capacity to make informed decisions about his treatment. On
August 8, 2011, the court ordered Bartley committed to the
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for evaluation and
treatment pursuant to Idaho Code § 18-212. There, Bartley
was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and chronic
mental illness. Six weeks after his commitment, the state
hospital determined that Bartley’s competency was restored
and discharged him. On October 20, 2011, the court entered
an order terminating the commitment pursuant to Idaho Code
§ 18-212 and sentenced Bartley to probation on the DUI
II. The 2018 Offense
In July 2018, someone called the police because Bartley
was in the parking lot of a business, yelling obscenities at a
vehicle. A witness and Bartley argued, and the witness
recorded the interaction on his telephone. Bartley pointed a
gun at the witness and then left. Officers executed a search
warrant at Bartley’s home and found firearms and
III. Procedural History
In denyingBartley’s motion to dismiss the indictment, the
district court, applying intermediate scrutiny, concluded that
the firearm ban in § 922(g)(4) is not overburdensome
“because those to whom the statute applies can participate in
a petition process to restore their right to firearm possession.”
Bartley, 400 F. Supp. 3d at 1071. The court also rejected
Bartley’s as-applied challenge to the statute. Id. The court
concluded that the 2011 state proceeding in which Bartley
was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the
state hospital brought Bartley within the meaning of
§ 922(g)(4). Id. at 1073. Finally, the court rejected Bartley’s
due process claim. Id.
Bartley entered a plea of guilty pursuant to a plea
agreement, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his
motion to dismiss the indictment. The court sentenced
Bartley to a twenty-month term of imprisonment. Bartley
timely appealed.
The constitutionality of a statute is reviewed de novo.
United States v. Chovan, 735 F.3d 1127, 1131 (9th Cir.
2013). The district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss the
indictment also is reviewed de novo. United States v.
Sineneng-Smith, 982 F.3d 766, 773 (9th Cir. 2020), pet. for
cert. filed, No. 20-1803 (U.S. Jun. 25, 2021). Although our
court has not addressed the issue, we agree with the district
court that the issue of whether a defendant’s adjudication or
commitment comes within the meaning of § 922(g)(4) “is a
question of law to be determined by the court rather than a
question of fact to be reserved for the jury.” Bartley, 400 F.
Supp. 3d at 1072 (quoting United States v. McLinn, 896 F.3d
1152, 1156 (10th Cir. 2018)). The facts of Bartley’s
circumstances are undisputed – the only question is whether
those facts come within the meaning of the statute, which is
a question of law. See McLinn, 896 F.3d at 1156 (stating that
“every court of appeals to have addressed the issue has held
that whether a defendant’s adjudication or commitment
qualifies under the current version of § 922(g)(4) is a question
of law to be determined by a judge rather than a question of
fact reserved for the jury,” and concluding likewise).
On appeal, Bartley raises three arguments. First, he
contends that the 2011 competency proceedings did not
include sufficient due process protections to bring him within
the purview of § 922(g)(4). Second, he argues that the 2011
proceedings did not constitute an adjudication or commitment
within the meaning of the statute. Third, he argues that the
statute as applied to him violates his Second Amendment
I. Due Process
Contrary to Bartley’s contention, the 2011 state
proceedings to determine his competency to face criminal
charges did not lack due process. He relies on the
observation in Mai v. United States, 952 F.3d 1106, 1110 (9th
Cir. 2020), cert. denied, No. 20-819, 2021 WL 1602649 (Apr.
26, 2021), that “commitments under state-lawprocedures that
lack robust judicial involvement do not qualify as
commitments for purposes of § 922(g)(4).” Id. Mai relied
for this principle on United States v. Rehlander, 666 F.3d 45
(1st Cir. 2012), which addressed Maine’s emergency
procedure for involuntary admission to psychiatric hospitals.
Unlike Maine’s procedure for “full-scale commitments (as
opposed to temporary hospitalization),” the statute governing
the emergency procedure provided for temporary
hospitalization following ex parte procedures and thus did not
require a traditional adversary proceeding. Id. at 46. The
First Circuit concluded that “temporary hospitalizations
supported only by ex parte procedures” did not constitute a
commitment under § 922(g)(4). Id. at 50.
Bartley’s commitment proceedings were unlike the
emergency procedure found insufficient in Rehlander. To the
contrary, Bartley was examined by a qualified psychologist
and represented by counsel, and the determination that he was
not fit to proceed was made by the court based on the
examiner’s findings. See Idaho Code §§ 18-211, 18-212. In
addition, Idaho law requires an adversarial proceeding if
either the prosecutor or defense counsel contests the finding
of the report, and the party contesting the finding has the right
to cross-examine the examiner and offer evidence. Idaho
Code § 18-212(1). Bartley’s commitment did not “lack
robust judicial involvement.” Mai, 952 F.3d at 1110.
Bartley also relies on the statement in Mai that
“[i]nvoluntary commitments comport with due process only
when the individual is found to be both mentally ill and
dangerous.” Id. (citing Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 80
(1992)). But Foucha, on which Mai relied, does not support
Bartley’s due process argument. Foucha addressed the
constitutionality of a Louisiana statute that permitted the
continued civil commitment of the petitioner, who had been
found not guilty by reason of insanity. Foucha, 504 U.S. at
73–74. The statute required the petitioner to prove that he
was not dangerous in order to be released from a psychiatric
hospital, even though he no longer suffered from mental
illness. Id. The Court explained that, “even if [the
petitioner’s] continued confinement were constitutionally
permissible, keeping [him] against his will in a mental
institution is improper absent a determination in civil
commitment proceedings of current mental illness and
dangerousness.” Id. at 78.
Unlike in Foucha, Bartley is not currently confined, and
his confinement after he was found not competent to stand
trial was for a constitutionally valid reason. Jackson v.
Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 733 (1972), held that a person’s civil
commitment passes constitutional scrutiny even “[w]ithout a
finding of dangerousness” when the commitment is “for a
‘reasonable period of time’ necessary to determine whether
there is a substantial chance of his attaining the capacity to
stand trial in the foreseeable future.” And, as Justice
O’Connor pointed out, the opinion in Foucha “addresses only
the specific statutory scheme before us, which broadly
permits indefinite confinement of sane insanity acquittees in
psychiatric facilities.” Foucha, 504 U.S. at 86–87
(O’Connor, J., concurring). The statute governing Bartley’s
confinement is nothing like the broad statute at issue in
Foucha, and he was found mentally ill, which was the
componenet missing during the extended confinement period
in Foucha. Mai accordingly does not support the contention
that the proceedings to determine Bartley’s competency to
face criminal charges lacked due process.
II. Adjudication or Commitment
A. Finding of Dangerousness
Bartley contends that the 2011 proceedings did not
constitute an adjudication or commitment within the meaning
of § 922(g)(4) because the state court did not find that he was
both mentally ill and dangerous. This argument is not
supported by the plain language of the statute and its
implementing regulation, 27 C.F.R. § 478.11.
Section 922(g)(4) prohibits the possession of a firearm by
any person “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective
or who has been committed to a mental institution.”1 The
regulation defines the phrase “committed to a mental
institution” simply as “[a] formal commitment of a person to
a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other
lawful authority.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.11. It includes “a
commitment to a mental institution involuntarily,”
“commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness,” and
“commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use.” Id.
Nowhere does the statute or regulation require a finding that
the committed person was both mentally ill and dangerous.
Bartley relies on Mai’s statement that “§ 922(g)(4)’s
prohibition as to those who were committed involuntarily . . .
applies only to those who were found, through procedures
satisfying due process, actually dangerous in the past.” Mai,
952 F.3d at 1121. This statement must be read in light of
Mai’s holding. The plaintiff in Mai had been committed
involuntarily after a state court determined he was both
mentally ill and dangerous. Id. at 1110. He successfully
petitioned for relief from state law prohibiting him from
possessing a firearm, but he was forbidden by § 922(g)(4)
from purchasing a handgun, and there was no state
mechanism for relief from the federal prohibition. Id. He
1 We focus our discussion on the “committed” prong and conclude
that Bartley’s commitment to the state hospital qualifies. In light of our
conclusion, we need not address whether the finding that Bartley was not
competent to stand trial was an adjudication “as a mental defective”
within the meaning of § 922(g)(4), although the definition of the phrase
in 27 C.F.R. § 478.11 indicates that it qualifies. We do note, as has the
Department of Justice, that the statutory phrase “mental defective” is an
unfortunate relic in the United States Code and does not comport with
current usage. See Amended Definition of “Adjudicated as a Mental
Defective” and “Committed to a Mental Institution” Summary, 79 Fed.
Reg. 774 (proposed Jan. 7, 2014).
brought an as-applied challenge to § 922(g)(4), “arguing that
its continued application to him despite his alleged return to
mental health and peaceableness violates the Second
Amendment.” Id. at 1109. Mai held that “the prohibition on
the possession of firearms by persons, like Plaintiff, whom a
state court has found to be both mentally ill and dangerous is
a reasonable fit with the government’s indisputably important
interest in preventing gun violence.” Id. Mai thus concluded
that the prohibition properly applied to the plaintiff. It did
not hold that findings of both mental illness and
dangerousness are always necessary in order for a state
commitment to come within the meaning of § 922(g)(4).
Such a requirement would be inconsistent with the plain
language of the statute.2
See Rehlander, 666 F.3d at 50
(“[S]ection 922(g)(4) does not bar firearms possession for
those who are or were mentally ill and dangerous, but . . .
only for any person ‘who has been adjudicated as a mental
defective’ or ‘has been committed to a mental institution.’”).
B. Idaho Code § 66-356
Bartley further argues that the 2011 competency
proceedings do not come within the meaning of § 922(g)(4)
because the state court did not make a finding under Idaho
Code § 66-356 that he is a person to whom § 922(g)(4)
This argument is precluded by the language of the
2 Bartley’s argument that his commitment does not qualify under
§ 922(g)(4) because he was not found dangerously mentally ill under
Idaho Code § 18-212(2) must be rejected for the same reason.
3 Section 66-356 is entitled “Relief from firearms disabilities” and
provides in part that a court that “[f]inds a defendant incompetent to stand
trial pursuant to section 18-212, Idaho Code, shall make a finding as to
statute and regulation, which do not require a separate
finding. The only question is whether he was “adjudicated as
a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution.”
§ 922(g)(4); cf. NLRB v. Nat. Gas Util. Dist., 402 U.S. 600,
603 (1971) (“‘In the absence of a plain indication to the
contrary, . . . it is to be assumed when Congress enacts a
statute that it does not intend to make its application
dependent on state law.’” (quoting NLRB v. Randolph Elec.
Membership Corp., 343 F.2d 60, 62 (4th Cir. 1965))).
The state court order committing Bartley to the state
hospital falls within the meaning of “committed to a mental
institution” for purposes of § 922(g)(4). The phrase means a
“formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a
court, board, commission, or other lawful authority,” and it
“includes a commitment to a mental institution
involuntarily.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.11. This is precisely what
occurred here. The state court ordered a mental evaluation of
Bartley after his defense counsel questioned his competence.
Based on the psychologist’s evaluation, the court found
Bartley lacked fitness to stand trial and lacked the capacity to
make informed decisions about his treatment, and ordered
him committed to the state hospital for evaluation and
treatment under Idaho Code § 18-212. Bartley was
“committed to a mental institution” within the meaning of
§ 922(g)(4). See, e.g., United States v. McIlwain, 772 F.3d
688, 689, 697 (11th Cir. 2014) (concluding that the
appellant’s commitment by an Alabama probate court
constituted a commitment under § 922(g)(4) where he
“received a formal hearing, was represented by an attorney,
and the state probate court heard sworn testimony and made
whether the subject of the proceeding is a person to whom the provisions
of 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(4) and (g)(4) apply.” Idaho Code § 66-356(1)(f).
substantive findings of fact that it included in its formal order
of commitment”); United States v. Dorsch, 363 F.3d 784,
786–87 (8th Cir. 2004) (holding that the appellant “was
committed to a mental institution as contemplated by
§ 922(g)(4) and 27 C.F.R. § 478.11,” where a county board
found that he was mentally ill and ordered his involuntary
commitment to a mental facility following “a hearing during
which [he] was represented by counsel, was given the
opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses,
and during which a physician testified that [he] was mentally
ill”); United States v. Midgett, 198 F.3d 143, 146 (4th Cir.
1999) (concluding that the defendant’s “confinement falls
squarely within any reasonable definition of ‘committed’ as
used in section 922(g)(4),” where he “was examined by a
competent mental health practitioner” and represented by
counsel, and a judge heard evidence, made factual findings,
concluded that he suffered from a mental illness, and issued
an order committing him to a mental institution); United
States v. Waters, 23 F.3d 29, 34 (2d Cir. 1994) (concluding
that the defendant was committed within the meaning of
§ 922(g)(4) where he was committed to a mental health
facility pursuant to “established ‘commitment’ procedures
under New York State law”).
III. Second Amendment
The application of § 922(g)(4) to Bartley does not violate
his Second Amendment right to possess a firearm. He
concedes that this issue is controlled by Mai, which explained
that “[a] law does not burden Second Amendment rights ‘if
it either falls within one of the “presumptively lawful
regulatory measures” identified in [District of Columbia v.
Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)] or regulates conduct that
historically has fallen outside the scope of the Second
Amendment.’” Mai, 952 F.3d at 1114 (quoting United States
v. Torres, 911 F.3d 1253, 1258 (9th Cir. 2019)). The
“presumptively lawful” measures identified by the Supreme
Court include “the ‘longstanding prohibitions on the
possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.’” Id.
(quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 626).
Bartley contends, nonetheless, that § 922(g)(4) is
unconstitutional as applied to him, relying on his arguments
that his competency proceedings did not comport with due
process and that he was not found to be actually dangerous.
Although the “longstanding prohibition[] on the possession
of firearms by . . . the mentally ill” is presumptively lawful,
id. (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 626), Mai explained that “the
‘well-trodden and “judicious course”’ taken by our court in
many recent cases” is to “assume, without deciding, that
§ 922(g)(4), as applied to [Bartley], burdens Second
Amendment rights.” Id. at 1114–15 (quoting Pena v. Lindley,
898 F.3d 969, 976 (9th Cir. 2018), cert. denied sub nom. Pena
v. Horan, 141 S. Ct. 1081 (2020)).
Therefore, assuming, without deciding, that the
application of § 922(g)(4) to Bartley burdens Second
Amendment rights, intermediate scrutiny applies. Id. at 1115.
This means “the government’s statutory objective must be
‘significant, substantial, or important,’ and there must be a
‘reasonable fit’ between the challenged law and that
objective.” Id. (quoting Silvester v. Harris, 843 F.3d 816,
821–22 (9th Cir. 2016)). Bartley has conceded that “there is
a significant interest in protecting the community from gun
violence,” Bartley, 400 F. Supp. 3d at 1071, and he does not
argue that there is not a reasonable fit between § 922(g)(4)
and that objective. Cf. Mai, 952 F.3d at 1117 (noting that the
plaintiff did not challenge the conclusion that § 922(g)(4) is
“a reasonable fit for the government’s laudable goal of
preventing gun violence”). Nor does he challenge the
conclusion in Mai that scientific evidence supported the
congressional judgment that those who have been
involuntarily committed to a mental institution posed an
increased risk of violence. See id. at 1116–21.
As discussed above, Bartley’s due process rights were not
violated by his competency proceedings, and a finding of
actual dangerousness is not required for the statute to apply
to him. Bartley contends only that the issues he raises are
“magnified” as applied to him because he is “a twicehonorably discharged veteran” and a college graduate and has
no other felony convictions. He does not, however, offer any
evidence or explanation as to why those factors mean that
§ 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional as applied to him. Cf.Chovan,
735 F.3d at 1142 (rejecting an as-applied challenge to
§ 922(g)(9) where the defendant offered no evidence to
contradict the evidence that the rate of domestic violence
recidivism is high).
Moreover, the burden on Bartley’s Second Amendment
rights is weaker than the burden in Mai, where the state
offered no relief from the firearm prohibition. By contrast,
here, Idaho law provides for the restoration of rights. See
Idaho Code § 66-356(2). There is no indication that Bartley
ever sought such restoration or whether he could have
obtained it. Mai acknowledged that the plaintiff did not have
any avenue for relief from § 922(g)(4), but nonetheless
concluded that “§ 922(g)(4)’s prohibition on those who have
been involuntarily committed to a mental institution is a
reasonable fit for the important goal of reducing gun
violence.” Mai, 952 F.3d at 1121. The prohibition on
Bartley’s right to possess a firearm is “‘presumptively
lawful,’” not an unconstitutional burden.
Id. at 1113
(quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 627 n.26); see Torres, 911 F.3d
at 1258 (stating that presumptively lawful measures such as
the ban on possession of firearms by the mentally ill
“comport with the Second Amendment because they affect
individuals or conduct unprotected by the right to keep and
bear arms” (quoting Binderup v. Att’y Gen. U.S., 836 F.3d
336, 343 (3d Cir. 2016) (en banc))).

Outcome: The judgment is AFFIRMED

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