JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a trial judge's dismissal of charges against a man accused of violating the state's prohibition on gun possession by convicted felons.
Arthel Ford Harris pleaded guilty in 2001 to a felony for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. He was arrested in 2011 for unlawfully possessing a .38-caliber revolver, and a St. Louis grand jury returned an indictment against him in 2012. But Missouri in 2001 only banned gun possession by people convicted of dangerous felonies, which did not include Harris's conviction. The law was broadened in 2008 to cover all felonies.
Possessing a gun as a felon is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
A trial judge in St. Louis dismissed the gun case against Harris, concluding it amounts to an ex post facto law when applied to him. A unanimous Missouri Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the trial court.
Supreme Court Judge Zel Fischer wrote in the high court's opinion that the law prohibiting felons from possessing a gun does not punish Harris' past conduct or increase the penalty for the drug offense. Instead, it establishes punishment for actions that happened after the gun law was enacted and then modified in 2008.
"Harris did not complete the crime ... until he possessed a revolver in 2011," Fischer wrote. "The statute punishes him for that act; it does not punish him for possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute or for pleading guilty to that crime in 2011."
An attorney who represented Harris before the Supreme Court did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in the case about a month ago along with four others that dealt with how to apply state laws making it illegal for sex offenders to be near parks and for felons to possess a gun when the initial offenses occurred before the restrictions were created.