Celona v. Scott

Federal District Court for Massachusetts

Challenge to the Due Process Afforded LTC applicants denied licenses
Filed May 4, 2015

Celona v. Scott 

In 1994, while living in Vermont, Sara Wilson Celona received a package at her residence addressed to her roommate. Unbeknownst to Ms. Celona, law enforcement had previously identified the package as containing marijuana while it was in transit. Ms. Celona was charged criminally by authorities in Vermont with possession of marijuana. Ms. Celona plead guilty to attempted possession of the marijuana in the package, and the State of Vermont later expunged her record.

Twenty years later, now living in Massachusetts and having been previously been issued a License to Carry Firearms necessary to purchase and possess handguns under state law, Ms. Celona applied for a renewal of her license with the Town of Pepperell. Chief David Scott of the Pepperell Police Department denied Ms. Celona’s license renewal application after locating information in an interstate database relating to the expunged incident in Vermont. In his response, Chief Scott claimed the previous Vermont matter made Ms. Celona statutorily ineligible to receive her License to Carry, citing Mass. Gen. Law ch. 140, §131(i)(e) which restricts those convicted of controlled substance violations as defined by Massachusetts law from obtaining a License to Carry.

Ms. Celona appealed her license denial in state court. Despite the fact the Town of Pepperell provided no evidence showing a previous conviction of any crime, the fact Chief Scott testified the Vermont matter was the only reason for the denial, and the fact Ms. Celona provided a certificate from the State of Vermont clearly proving her expungement, the Court rejected Ms. Celona’s appeal. After informing Ms. Celona she was not entitled to even see the database information upon which Chief Scott relied, the Court cited her mere “involvement” with marijuana as a sufficient reason for Chief Scott to deny her under the controlled substance provision cited above.

As a result, Ms. Celona has brought suit in Federal Court against Chief Scott in his official capacity as Police Chief for the Town of Pepperell, alleging Chief Scott’s denial of her license renewal was violation of her individual right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense, as secured by the Second Amendment. Additionally, Ms. Celona also alleges her rights to Due Process, as secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, were violated due to both Chief Scott’s refusal disclose the records he relied upon to deny her license and the court’s placement of the burden of proof on Ms. Celona.

In addition to vindicating the Second Amendment rights of those who have been denied licenses on the basis of past expunged and sealed convictions, the case seeks to change the unfair nature in which licensing appeals are conducted in the Commonwealth. As it currently stands, Massachusetts residents who wish to challenge a firearms license denial walk into court with the deck stacked heavily against them. In no other proceeding is the burden on the citizen and NOT the government prove a party is ineligible to exercise his or her Constitutionally-guaranteed rights—all while the citizen is simultaneously handcuffed in that task by not being permitted discovery, preventing them from so much as getting a glance at the evidence being offered against them by the government which is attempting to take those rights away.

Commonwealth Second Amendment is backing this case, recognizing the enormous potential impact on procedures commonly applied by Massachusetts state courts in firearms licensing appeals cases, as well as the impact on citizens with past sealed or expunged criminal records. 

Mrs. Celona is represented by Worcester, Massachusetts attorney J. Steven Foley

Status:

Under advisement by the court. 

Updates: