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Court: indictment's lack of evidence not enough to toss gun charge

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned the decision of a Pittsburgh judge to dismiss gun charges against a local woman due to what the judge saw as a weak case against her. The appellate court's objection to the dismissal on procedural grounds means that the woman could once again face charges related to an assault rifle police found at her house.

In charging the defendant in 2008, authorities claimed that the assault rifle actually belonged to her boyfriend, a man with a felony record. It is against the law for those convicted of a felony to own or possess a gun. At the time, the defendant, a resident of Clarion County, Pennsylvania, said the rifle belonged to her, and that she was legally entitled to possess the weapon under the Second Amendment.

The U.S. District Court judge presiding over the case in Pittsburgh examined the indictment submitted by prosecutors. Finding the government's case "incurably weak," he dismissed the indictment, according to the appellate court. But that was improper, because his job at that point in the case was to determine whether the allegations in the indictment were sufficient on their face for the case to move forward. That means the judge must assume the facts in the indictment are true, and not weigh the actual evidence, the Court of Appeals said.

The case will now return to the trial level, though it is unclear whether prosecutors will be able to prove the charges that appeared so dubious to the judge in 2008. They claim to have testimony from FBI agents that the rifle belonged to the defendant's boyfriend.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Court reverses gun charge ruling in Clarion case," Torsten Ove, Jan. 7, 2012

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