ALBANY — New York’s top court grappled Wednesday with whether a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on guns should now undo some previous criminal convictions.
The state Court of Appeals heard arguments from six defendants — including former NBA player Sebastian Telfair, via his lawyer — who say their convictions for criminal possession of weapon should be tossed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision known as “Bruen,” which struck down New York’s then-law for obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon outside the home.
They argued that the Bruen ruling essentially rendered unconstitutional the New York statute covering criminal possession of a weapon.
Prosecutors — including assistants to state Attorney General Letitia James — said the defendants were grasping at straws. They said the Bruen decision addressed licensing requirements, not criminal statutes, and that none of the six defendants even had applied for a license, so their cases aren’t impacted by Bruen.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The state Court of Appeals heard arguments from six defendants who say their convictions for criminal possession of weapon should be tossed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision.
- That decision, known as "Bruen," struck down New York’s law for obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon outside the home.
- Prosecutors said the Bruen decision addressed licensing requirements, not criminal statutes, and that none of the six defendants even had applied for a license.
Further, throwing out this handful of convictions would subject state courts to “relitigating tens of thousands of cases that have already concluded,” Ester Murdukhayeva, a deputy solicitor general in James’ office, told the court.
The seven-judge panel peppered attorneys with questions about legal standing, timeliness of challenging convictions, search and seizure laws and even age requirements for obtaining a gun license, since one of the defendants was a minor when arrested.
Though they didn’t tip their hand, the judges at times seemed skeptical of the defense lawyers’ claims.
“Bruen did not hold that regulation [of guns] is unconstitutional,” Judge Jenny Rivera said in a refrain that would be repeated or rephrased a number of times in a proceeding that began at 2 p.m. and was expected to continue past sundown.
At issue is the 2022 Supreme Court ruling that struck down New York’s century-old law governing licenses to carry a concealed weapon outside the home, saying it violated Second Amendment gun rights.
The court said the old law was too restrictive because it required applicants for a concealed-carry gun permit to show “proper cause” (justification) and “good moral character,” which were too vague and subjective.
But it said New York could enact a law requiring more objective standards. Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature did so later in 2022, though the new statute is facing a new set of constitutional challenges.
The criminal cases brought to the Court of Appeals on Wednesday are separate from the new law.
Though each one is different, they all feature a conviction on charges of criminal possession of a weapon.
Telfair’s case dates to 2017, when he was pulled over by police in Brooklyn and an ensuing search of his vehicle turned up a loaded weapon. He was convicted in 2019 but has been free pending his appeal, which has been struck down by lower courts.
Telfair, now 38, went from New York City high school star to a 10-year career in the NBA, ending in 2015. Earlier this year, he was among a number of players who pleaded guilty to defrauding the basketball league’s health care plan.
The Court of Appeals typically takes four to eight weeks to decide a case.