Jenner & Block

US Supreme Court Grants Firm’s Petition of Certiorari in Case Raising Important Criminal Procedure Issue

The US Supreme Court on February 21, 2017, granted a petition of certiorari authored by Partner Jessica Ring Amunson and former associate Trent McCotter.  The case, Rodney Class v. United States, involves Mr. Class’ guilty plea and his subsequent appeal, arguing that the statute under which he was charged is unconstitutional.  The question before the Court is whether a guilty plea inherently waives a defendant's right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction.

The case began in 2013, when Mr. Class, a retired veteran from North Carolina, took a trip to Washington, DC.  Mr. Class has a concealed-carry firearm permit, and during the trip, he left his weapon in his locked car in a parking lot that, unknown to him, was part of the Capitol Grounds -- where all weapons are prohibited.  A police officer looked in the cab of Mr. Class’ vehicle and saw what she believed was a gun holster.  When Mr. Class returned to his car, he was arrested.  Mr. Class was then charged in US District Court for the District of Columbiawith violating a federal statute that prohibits the possession of weapons on Capitol Grounds.  In 2014, the district court denied Mr. Class’ claim that his Second Amendment rights had been violated.  Mr. Class later pleaded guilty to one charge of possessing a weapon on Capitol Grounds but immediately appealed to the DC Circuit, arguing that the law violates the Second Amendment and the due process clause because it fails to give fair warning as to what areas are considered the Capitol Grounds and thus where weapons are banned.  In 2016, the DC Circuit affirmed Mr. Class’ conviction.  The Court held that Mr. Class had waived any constitutional challenge to his statute of conviction by pleading guilty and refused to address the merits of his claims.

The firm’s petition for certiorari detailed the split among the circuits over whether a defendant who pleads guilty to a crime can challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction or whether the defendant inherently waives that ability to challenge the law as part of conceding guilt.

“Resolving the split on this issue would make guilty plea proceedings more predictable, thereby benefitting defendants, prosecutors, and courts alike,” the petition reads.  The case will be argued in the Supreme Court next Term.