New York District Attorneys In Error Claiming State Courts Can Choose to Enforce Law
TONAWANDA, NY: The Shooter’s Committee on Political Education takes issue with the reported statements of certain New York State District Attorneys claiming that they are not bound by the order of a federal court that struck down part of the New York “SAFE Act” that
made it illegal to load more than seven rounds of ammunition in a ten round magazine. Comprehensive analysis from SCOPE’s legal counsel revealed well-settled New York law that state trial courts are not free to ignore the federal court’s order, and courts anywhere in the state cannot sustain charges brought under the stricken provision. SCOPE President Stephen J. Aldstadt observed, “New York’s District Attorneys should not in good conscience even consider bringing charges against people under a law that has been nullified by a federal court. As things now stand, the ammo loading law cannot be given force or effect by state trial courts.”
The “seven-in-ten” law was struck down as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment by the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. The court applied fundamental principles from the seminal decision of the United States Supreme Court in District Columbia v. Heller, and the subsequent federal appellate cases that applied Heller. Under a ruling by New York’s highest state court, the Court of Appeals – which was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court – constitutional questions are necessarily controlled by a body of national law as set forth by the federal courts, and New York courts statewide are bound to follow the decisions of federal courts in such areas even in the absence of a controlling United States Supreme Court decision.1
These District Attorneys and others calling into question the binding effect of the federal court’s order striking down the “seven-in-ten” law apparently misunderstand that New York state trial courts are bound by a lower federal court decision on a constitutional question except in certain limited circumstances – none of which apply. Only where there is a conflict between a decision of the New York Court of Appeals and that of a lower federal court must the ruling of the state Court of Appeals be followed; or, where there are conflicting decisions among lower federal courts, state courts may interpret the law on their own. Those rules have been firmly established by a long line of New York cases from the New York Court of Appeals and state intermediate appellate courts.2
Since there are no conflicting decisions from other federal courts, and since the New York Court of Appeals has not considered the issue,
New York’s state courts are bound to follow the federal court decision striking down the “seven-in-ten” law. SCOPE’s Aldstadt commented, “New York’s prosecutors should uphold the oath they have taken to support and defend the Constitution, acknowledge that the ill-conceived ‘seven-in-ten’ law is unconstitutional, and refuse to enforce it.”
SCOPE further expresses disappointment that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has stated that he will appeal the federal court’s decision striking down the unconstitutional “seven-in-ten” law, which federal Chief Judge William M. Skretney of the Western District of New York rightly ridiculed because it assumes “that those intent on doing harm (whom, of course, the Act is aimed to stop) will load their weapon with only the permitted seven rounds.” SCOPE will continue forward as a plaintiff in the pending separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the “seven-in-ten” law, filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, until New York State concedes that the law is invalid, or until the United States Supreme Court finally resolves the issue
About S.C.O.P.E. Founded in 1965 by a group of firearms owners in western New York, The Shooter’s Committee on Political Education is a civil rights organization focused on the protection and preservation of the right of firearms ownership as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. SCOPE does not align itself with any political party, nor does it endorse any candidates for elective office. SCOPE’s function is to counter assaults on the right of firearms ownership by providing legislators and executives with timely and accurate information to support sound decisions, through support of select litigation in state and federal courts, and through education of its members, the media, and the public at large.
1 Alvez v. American Export Lines, 46 N.Y.2d 634 (1979), affd. 446 U.S. 274 (1980).
2 See, e.g., Flanagan v. Prudential–Bache Sec., Inc., 67 N.Y.2d 500, 507-508 (1986) (“[W]e are bound to apply the statute as interpreted by Supreme Court decision or, absent such, in accordance with the rule established by lower Federal courts if they are in agreement. … When there is neither decision of the Supreme Court nor uniformity in the decisions of the lower Federal courts, however, a State court required to interpret the Federal statute has the same responsibility as the lower Federal courts and is not precluded from exercising its own judgment or bound to follow the decision of the [ ] Court of Appeals within the territorial boundaries of which it sits.”); People v. Jackson, 46 A.D.3d 1110 (3rd Dept.2007), lv. denied 10 N.Y.3d 766 (2008); People v. Wicks, 73 A.D.3d 1233 (3rd Dept.2010); People v. Brown, 235 A.D.2d 344 (1st Dept. 1997); People v. Lugo, 233 A.D.2d 197 (1st Dept. 1996); People v. Joseph, 85 A.D.2d 546, (1st by a long line of New York cases from the New York
Dept. 1981). See also 1 Carmody-Wait New York Practice 2d § 2:328.