On July 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed that law enforcement officials in New York acted unlawfully with respect to guns confiscated from a Nassau County woman in 2012.
We had previously written about the legal battle to recover the guns and the initial court decision, Panzella v. Nassau County, No. 13-cv-05640 (E.D. N.Y. Aug. 26, 2015), where the federal court ruled that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department could not rely on a “retention policy” to retain the confiscated guns without providing the owner with a due process hearing.
To recap, in June 2012, Christine Panzella alleged that her ex-husband was in arrears on his court-ordered child support. The day after she sent a letter to the support collection authorities, her ex-husband (a former police officer) applied for and obtained a temporary order of protection against her. That order, in effect until December 2012, was issued ex parte (where the affected person has no notice or opportunity to appear) and without a court hearing.
Such orders are authorized by the New York Family Court Act. The family court may include, as part of the order, a requirement that the person subject to the order surrender firearms in their possession to law enforcement. This order, though, had no surrender directive or order that would allow officers to seize or confiscate any guns. And although the order listed a generic warning regarding the federal law (“It is a federal crime to . . . buy, possess or transfer a handgun, rifle, shotgun or other firearm while this Order remains in effect…”), that law had no application because ex parte protection orders are not firearm-disqualifying under federal law.
Nonetheless, when deputies from Nassau County arrived at Ms. Panzella’s home a few days later, they demanded that she surrender the guns in the home. The deputies confiscated several long guns, including a shotgun that belonged to her then fiancé.
Ms. Panzella maintained that the order of protection was groundless and indeed, it was ultimately withdrawn by her ex-husband and dismissed by the court. Once the order terminated, Ms. Panzella made several fruitless requests that Nassau County law enforcement return her guns. Officials refused, citing their “retention policy” that required lawful gun owners to first obtain a court order compelling the return of their property.