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Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

May 9, 2019

JERRY L. BARR III, Respondent,
v.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY SHERIFF, Petitioner.

          YU, J.

         This case asks us to decide whether the Snohomish County sheriff (the Sheriff) is required to issue a concealed pistol license (CPL) to an individual whose sealed juvenile record includes adjudications for class A felonies. In this case, the answer is no. The Sheriff is not required to issue a CPL to a person who "is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law." RCW 9.41.070(1)(a). Due to respondent Jerry Barr's class A felony adjudications, federal law provides that it is unlawful for him to "possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition." 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and hold that Barr is not entitled to a writ of mandamus requiring the Sheriff to issue him a CPL.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         In 1992, when he was a juvenile, Barr was adjudicated guilty of three offenses, two of which are classified as class A felonies.[1] His criminal history also includes three convictions as an adult between 1996 and 2000.

         In 2016, Barr received an order restoring his firearm rights as to the three adult convictions and one of the offenses he committed as a juvenile. The order was issued pursuant to RCW 9.41.040(4), which allows a court to restore firearm rights after an individual has spent a number of consecutive years in the community without being convicted of any other crimes. RCW 9.41.040(4) does not apply to class A felonies and sex offenses.

         Barr's remaining two juvenile adjudications are class A felonies. In September 2016, Barr secured orders sealing the records of these two adjudications and declaring that "[s]o long as this case remains sealed, the offenses ... do not prohibit [Barr] from possessing firearms under RCW 9.41.040." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 46-47.

         With these orders in hand, Barr applied for a CPL from the Sheriff in November 2016. The Sheriff denied the application based on the two sealed class A felonies, which were revealed in a search of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the Washington State Patrol criminal history database. The Sheriff determined that the two class A felonies, whether sealed or not, prohibited Barr from possessing a firearm pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which made him ineligible for a CPL. Id. at 61.

         Barr petitioned the Thurston County Superior Court for a writ of mandamus requiring the Sheriff to issue the CPL. The writ was denied, and Barr sought review in the Court of Appeals. In a published decision, Division Two reversed and remanded with an order to issue the writ. Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff, 4 Wn.App. 2d 85, 89, 419 P.3d 867 (2018). The Sheriff petitioned for review in this court, which we granted. Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff 191 Wn.2d 1019 (2018). We also asked the parties to address in their supplemental briefs "whether a juvenile conviction which has been sealed is still a 'conviction' for purposes of the state and federal firearm statutes." Letter from Susan L. Carlson, Supreme Ct. Clerk, Wash., to the parties (Nov. 5, 2018), Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff No. 96072-1.

         Issues

         A. Does the Sheriff have a mandatory duty to issue Barr a CPL?

         B. Is Barr entitled to attorney fees and costs on review?

         Analysis

         RCW 9.41.0975(2)(a) allows an applicant to petition for a writ of mandamus directing an issuing agency to issue a CPL "wrongfully refused." A CPL is wrongfully refused if the issuing agency has a mandatory duty to issue one and refuses to do so. See RCW 7.16.160 (writ issued to "compel the performance of an act which the law especially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office"). We therefore must decide whether RCW 9.41.070 imposes a mandatory duty on the Sheriff to issue Barr a CPL. "The determination of whether a statute specifies a duty that the person must perform is a question of law." River Park Square, LLC v. Miggins,143 Wn.2d 68, 76, ...


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