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Supreme Court: Guilty plea doesn't bar a constitutional appeal

Rodney C. is an interesting guy. He's a veteran who has a North Carolina concealed-carry permit who wanted to carve out an unusual position for himself in modern law enforcement. He apparently sees himself as a defender of the Constitution -- a "private attorney general" who crisscrosses the nation to enforce constitutional law against judges whom he feels are ignoring it.

He carries guns. According to the Courthouse News Service, he has never actually threatened to use a gun against a judge, but he had been planning to intervene against a Pennsylvania judge who hadn't passed muster. That was his next stop after a trip to Washington, D.C., where he hoped to get Congress to designate him a "constitutional bounty hunter."

While he was at Capitol Hill, he parked in a secured lot on the grounds of the Capitol building. A police officer peeked into the windows of his Jeep and spotted an empty gun holster and a large knife. A further search of the vehicle revealed multiple knives and three guns.

He was charged with carrying a firearm on the Capitol grounds, a violation of federal law. Representing himself, he tried to have the charge dismissed on the grounds that the statute violated the Second Amendment and the Due Process clause of the constitution. When that was rejected, he agreed to a standard unconditional guilty plea.

He then appealed the constitutionality of his conviction. An appeals court ruled that, by entering a guilty plea, he had waived his right to appeal. The Supreme Court took up his case, however, and recently overturned that appellate court ruling.

"A guilty plea, by itself, does not bar a federal criminal defendant from challenging the constitutionality of his statute of conviction on direct appeal," the high court ruled. In other words, the fact that you plead guilty may restrict your right to appeal for most reasons, but not if you're challenging the constitutionality of the law you were convicted under.

Rodney C. will be allowed to bring forward a challenge to the constitutionality of the Capital grounds firearm restriction. The court offered no opinion on whether such a challenge is likely to be successful.

The ruling was issued on a 6-3 vote. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.

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