Friday, December 2, 2016
Law May Be Invalidated Where Compliance Is Impossible—Court of Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fifth District Court of Appeal declared yesterday that the separation-of-powers doctrine—which normally precludes a court from invalidating duly enacted legislation—does not stop a court from overturning a law that requires the impossible.
That’s precisely the effect of Penal Code §31910(b)(7)(A), which went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, two associations of gun-makers contended in an action filed in Fresno Superior Court. Judgment on the pleadings was granted in favor of the state on the ground that a judge normally can’t second-guess the Legislature.
The statute in question provides that a semiautomatic pistol is an “‘unsafe handgun’” if “it is not designed and equipped with a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol, etched or otherwise imprinted in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the pistol, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the firearm is fired.…”
According to the plaintiffs, that is not technologically possible, rendering the statute defective under Civil Code §3531, a maxim, which provides: “The law never requires impossibilities.”
Agreeing, the Fifth District appeals court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings. Justice Bert Levy wrote:
“Because judgment was granted on the pleadings, we must accept the truth of the complaint’s properly pleaded facts….Accordingly, we must accept appellants’ claim that it is impossible to effectively microstamp the required characters on any part of a semiautomatic pistol other than the firing pin.”
He went on to say:
“It would be illogical to uphold a requirement that is currently impossible to accomplish. Accordingly, appellants have the right to present evidence and if they are able to prove it is impossible to comply with the dual microstamping requirement, the separation of powers doctrine would not prevent the judiciary from invalidating that legislation. Although courts must generally defer to the Legislature’s factual determination, that is not the case if such determination is arbitrary or irrational. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of respondent based on the separation of powers doctrine.”
The state argued that if it is possible to microstamp the firing pin, the statute could be satisfied by microstamping the pin in two spots. Levy responded:
“First, the language ‘two or more places’ suggests microstamping must be on two or more different parts of the pistol rather than two stamps on the same part. Additionally, the legislative history indicates that was the Legislature’s intent.”
He said that legislative history shows that the purpose of “dual microstamping was to hinder criminals from defeating the process by defacing or removing the firing pin.”
“Thus, the only logical interpretation of the statute is that the Legislature intended the microstamping to be on two different internal parts of the pistol. If one microstamp on the firing pin can be easily defeated, the same is true for two.”
The case is National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. v. State of California, F072310.
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