CLAIMANT AWARDED DAMAGES AFTER PA STATE POLICE’S INACCURATE CRIMINAL HISTORY INFORMATION LEADS TO A DENIAL OF HIS RIGHT TO PURCHASE FIREARM
The Commonwealth Court has decided the case of M. Haron v. PSP, 220 M.D. 2015 (September 19, 2017), holding that the PA State Police’s failure to maintain accurate criminal history record information lead to an unlawful denial of the Haron’s exercise of his Second Amendment constitutional right. Haron was therefore “aggrieved” and entitled to actual and real damages, plus costs and attorney fees.
Haron attempted to purchase a firearm and was denied after PA State Police’s (PSP) Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) returned a criminal history result that indicated he was prohibited from purchasing a firearm because of a 1991 conviction for violating section 6106 of the Uniform Firearms Act (UFA), (specifically, carrying a firearm without a license). He appealed this denial, claiming that PSP’s records were incorrect and, he was again denied. He then obtained counsel, appealed to the Office of Attorney General, Regulatory Compliance & Intelligence Section and was thereafter informed that PSP was now acknowledging that the criminal history information it had was incorrect.
Haron also filed for relief under The Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA). CHRIA is applicable “to any agency of the Commonwealth . . . which collects, maintains, disseminates or receives criminal history record information.” CHRIA imposes a duty on such agencies “to maintain complete and accurate criminal history record information and to report such information at such times and in such manner as required by the provisions of this chapter or other applicable statutes.” And, CHRIA sets forth the available remedies for violations of its provisions, including filing an action for damages.
In analyzing Haron’s claim, the Commonwealth Court concluded that PSP did, in fact, originally maintain incorrect criminal history record information with respect to Haron, in violation of section 9111 of CHRIA. This resulted in the wrongful denial of his constitutional right to purchase a firearm for a period of several months and required him to ultimately obtain counsel. As such, the maintenance of incorrect criminal records, resulting in an unwarranted denial of a constitutional right to purchase a firearm, constituted “aggrievement.” And, because Haron was aggrieved, the Commonwealth Court found that he was entitled to recover actual and real damages, in the amount of $1,500.00, which represented the retainer fee that he was required to pay to obtain counsel to represent him in this matter. Additionally, he was entitled to reasonable costs of litigation and attorney fees.
The Commonwealth Court did not award punitive damages for the what Haron claimed were PSP’s willful violation of CHRIA’s provisions. Although the Court agreed that there was no dispute that the records originally maintained by PSP were incorrect, PSP was able to verify the inaccuracy of its records and inform Haron of the same within 39 days of receipt of documentation from Haron. Therefore, the Court concluded, such a relatively short time period [did not reflect a] deliberate or willful intent to maintain inaccurate records on the part of PSP.”
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