Citing Prohibition precedent, some Mobile lawyers are challenging old pistol permit charges

Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:37 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Some lawyers are challenging the prosecution of pistol permit charges that predate last year’s repeal of the law, and they are citing a precedent from the Prohibition era.

The state Legislature passed a law in February last year doing away with the requirement that people have a permit allowing them to carry a concealed handgun. But lawmakers delayed it from taking effect until January to give the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency time to set up a database to make it easy for police officers to check whether people pulled over for traffic offenses are prohibited by law from possession a firearm.

Mobile city prosecutors have continued to pursue cases from before Jan. 1. That includes Eric Lamar Jones. Police charged him with a misdemeanor pistol permit violation on April 24 after a traffic stop. That was after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the repeal in March but more than eight months before it took effect.

Jones’ lawyer, Gordon Armstrong, argued that the new law prevented prosecution of his client. When city prosecutors and Municipal Judge Freddie Stokes disagreed, Armstrong asked a Mobile County Circuit Court judge to review it. Before a hearing on the issue last month, though, city prosecutors dropped the charge, writing that that “the ends of justice will be served” but offering no further explanation.

“I’d like to think it was because they feared that the defense would prevail and they’d get an adverse ruling but, you know, I wasn’t privy to any conversations,” Armstrong said.

Regardless of that one case, city officials said they have not backed away from their belief that pistol permit violations from before January are fair game. A city spokesman citied this language in the new law: “This act shall not be construed to diminish or otherwise limit the power of a law enforcement officer under existing law to detain, investigate, or arrest a person for a violation of the law.”

But Armstrong argued that section excludes any provision for prosecuting cases or for the courts to adjudicate them.

“It’s either an oversight or it was intentional, because if you look at other statutes that repeal laws, there is more specific information,” he told FOX10 News. “And I cited that in my (petition to the court) that I have that reference to a prior statute where the Legislature actually put specific authority for the courts to continue to rule on these cases.”

In written arguments, Armstrong cites the state’s new criminal code passed in 1980 that had more specific language preserving prosecution of pending offenses in the old code.

It is unclear how many people are in the same position Jones was.

“Statewide, there’s got to be hundreds or more,” Armstrong said.

Other lawyers in Mobile are offering similar defenses. Tom Walsh said he represents someone charged with a pistol permit violation from before the Legislature approved the repeal. But he said the same logic Armstrong cites applies in his case, as well.

“The case that we’ve cited, that Mr. Armstrong and I have cited in our motions to dismiss, relate back to Prohibition era,” he said. “I mean, it’s a 1934 case that is still good, that is still used, that is still cited. And it ended prosecutions for the illegal possession, sale and distribution of alcohol prior to the repeal of the Prohibitions amendment.”

Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch, who opposed the repeal, said he hopes that people who violated the law when it was on the books will be held accountable.

“It’s concerning if, you know, were arrested, you know, before the effective date of the law and not face the consequences of your actions,” he said.