Court upholds right to due process hearing over seized guns

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals this week said a New York woman who had her firearms picked up by the local sheriff five years ago should be granted a hearing to get them back.

The decision involves Christine Panzella who had her guns seized while she was the subject of a protective order filed by her ex-husband. Now with the order out of effect since 2013, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department says she can’t get them back without a hearing. This week a three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s decision on appeal and unanimously said there is no apparent reason why she shouldn’t receive a hearing to get her firearms returned by the agency.

Five days after her ex-husband filed a protective order in New York Family Court against Panzella in June 2012, deputies arrived at her home to deliver it and in the process seized her pistol license along with two rifles and three shotguns, although the court did not specifically order their confiscation. The guns were locked up in the armory of the Nassau County Correctional Center, where they remain.

The temporary order expired and her ex eventually withdrew the filing in March 2013, leading county officials to return her pistol license. Since she is not prohibited from possessing firearms, Panzella has since purchased a new pistol. However, the county has a policy of not returning long arms seized from an individual unless they are given a court order to do so, and the family court does not have the authority to release them.

To get her guns back, in October 2013, Panzella filed suit against the county and sheriff citing her 14th Amendment due process rights and Second Amendment right to bear arms were being violated

In August 2015, a U.S. district court ruled the county violated the gun owner’s rights and ordered a hearing on custody of the long arms within 30 days, which the county appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that Panzella could petition the New York Supreme Court under what is known as an Article 78 challenge to order her guns returned, an often costly and drawn-out process.

This week the 2nd Circuit shot that argument down, saying a prompt hearing at a lower level is a better option both for the county and Panzella.

“Such a hearing would provide Panzella with a timely and inexpensive forum to challenge the County’s retention of her longarms and would avoid placing on Panzella the burdens that inhere in an Article 78 proceeding,” wrote Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi for the panel.

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