Long-pardoned man challenges NICS denial, sluggish appeal process

A Texas man granted a full pardon in 2012 has filed suit in federal court after he was denied a legal firearm transfer by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May.

Charles Norfleet Hughes was convicted of marijuana possession in California in 1998, a felony that did not involve the use of a dangerous weapon. After successfully completing a sentence of three years probation and living as a model citizen for more than a decade, Hughes petitioned California Gov. Jerry Brown for a full pardon, which was given.

Hughes, now a Texas resident, attempted to buy a firearm on May 27 and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System at first delayed the purchase and then denied it over the marijuana conviction.

Appealing his denial, he was informed that the “NICS Section is currently processing cases received in July 2015” inferring that he could expect more than a year’s delay before his case came up for review. On the grounds that the federal government was unlawfully depriving him of his constitutional rights, Hughes filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week naming Attorney Gen. Loretta Lynch in her official capacity as defendant.

Court documents in the case disclose that the FBI already had a copy of Hughes’s Certificate of Rehabilitation and pardon in their files prior to his denial, raising a red flag to his attorney.

“Defendants are either willfully denying Plaintiff his Second Amendment rights or there is a glitch in the system showing that Plaintiff is a prohibited person,” noted the filing. “There is no basis for Defendants to deny Plaintiff his firearm and his Second Amendment rights.”

In recent years the appeals process has bogged down. As previously reported by Guns.com, the backlog of NICS appeals has stagnated as personnel have been temporarily reassigned to assist in running initial criminal background checks because of the recent surges in checks.

In January 2016 the FBI’s NICS appeals website indicated the appeals services team was still processing appeals received in June 2015. Current data some six months later shows they are processing appeal cases received in July 2015.

Stephen D. Stamboulieh, who contends the Justice Department has dropped the ball, represents Hughes.

“He attempted to purchase a firearm and was denied, despite the FBI already having this information in its system,” said Stamboulieh in a statement. “As the ‘appeals’ process with NICS slows to a halt, people are left with no choice but to vindicate their rights in court.”

Hughes is seeking to correct his record, be issued a Unique Personal Identification Number so that he can conduct firearms transfers without delay as well as attorney’s fees and costs.