RICHMOND, Va. - The state Supreme Court ruled Friday the courts have the sole discretion in Virginia whether felons who have served their time can have their firearm rights restored.
The justices ruled in the case of two felons who had their political rights separately restored by former Gov. Tim Kaine and current Gov. Bob McDonnell. In both instances, the governors restored the former felons' rights to vote, hold office and sit on a jury.
Both former felons, however, were not granted the right to ship, transport, possess or receive firearms. The two appealed to circuit courts in Fairfax and Buchanan counties and both courts denied the appeals.
The justices wrote that Kaine and McDonnell correctly exercised their constitutional authority in restoring political rights, and properly referred the question about the rights on firearms to circuit courts.
"The jurisdiction to restore firearm rights lost in those circumstances is vested solely in the circuit court," they wrote.
The justices added, "A person convicted of a felony in Virginia must first obtain an order from the governor removing his political disabilities as a condition precedent to his right to petition the circuit court for restoration of his firearm rights."
Such decisions, the court wrote, involve local concerns about public safety and should provide an opportunity for local prosecutors to have a say in the proceedings.
The justices said the lower courts erred in concluding that the governors' actions precluded them from acting on rights involving firearms.
The Supreme Court returned both appeals to the lower courts for further review.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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