The Appeals/BFPE Process

First, you need to file your appeal.  You need to fill out an appeal letter and form.  There are boiler plate letters and the form available on the BFPE website at:
http://www.ct.gov/bfpe/cwp/view.asp?a=1252&Q=254192&bfpeNav=|

OK, so now you contacted the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners (BFPE) and are awaiting your hearing.  What can you expect?  Do you need an attorney?  How can you prepare?  How is the BFPE organized/run?  All good questions I will address here.

Many appellants have questions regarding criminal history and/or convictions.  Were charges dropped via a diversionary program?  Was something a misdemeanor?  Is it a disqualifier?  Best thing to do (to at least get started) is to run a background check at the state.  As of March, 2016, this charge is still fifty dollars.  It isn’t exhaustive list, but will get you on the right path to preparing your case should you have any questions.  Here is the form to be filled out and can be brought into the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Bureau of Identification in Middletown.

http://www.ct.gov/dps/lib/dps/reports_and_records/dps-846-c.pdf

The best way to describe the board comes from their website:

The Board is comprised of nine members appointed by the Governor to serve during his term and until their successors are appointed and qualify. The members are appointed from nominees of the Commissioner the Dept. of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, the Commissioner of the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, The Connecticut State Rifles and Revolvers Association, Inc., Ye Connecticut Gun Guild, Inc., the Commissioner of the Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and an appointee of the Chief Court Administrator. Two members of the public are appointed with at least one member of the Board shall be a lawyer licensed to practice in Connecticut, who shall act as Chairman of the Board during the hearing of appeals.

“Do I need an attorney?”.  Short answer, depends.  If it is not going to be a hard on you financially, I’d say go for it.  Get an experienced attorney that understands the process and gun laws.  Ask them how many of these have they done before.  I wouldn’t look for a criminal attorney, they usually cost more and don’t have experience with these type of hearings and the format is different from criminal law.  These hearings are called “Administrative Hearings”.  So, they do run a little different then your average court process (though not entirely dissimilar).  If you have experience in this sort of thing,  you can indeed go it alone.  Just follow some of the tips on this page to help you through the process.

On the day of your hearing, bring all your exhibits (anything you plan on submitting to the board) 1 original (if needed) and 9 copies.  If you have a witness that cannot attend (but have knowledge of a specific situation like why a permit was revoked), have them write a statement and have it notarized (don’t forget the 9 copies).  Character witnesses don’t need to be notarized.  Letters are important.  Don’t say “call my boss” or “call my neighbor”.  If they aren’t there, it doesn’t matter.  Have them write a letter.

You only need 11 copies if you don’t submit them to the board prior to your hearing.  You can submit paperwork ahead of time (at least two business days prior to your hearing date).  You can either mail or fax your exhibits to the board.  If you do this, make sure you put your name and case number on your cover letter.

Bring a notepad and something to write with (you may catch something at someone else’s hearing that may help your case.  This is also very helpful when the issuing authority or DPS makes an inaccurate statement.  Remain calm.  Don’t make facial gestures and such, let them continue.  Write down whatever statement was wrong and you can counter that statement or even get it corrected when it’s your turn to interview the witness.  Also, if you’re diabetic or have similar conditions, bring something to drink and snack on.  These hearings can take quite some time.  If you don’t have strong English speaking skills, you can bring someone to help you.  You or your witness can write their testimony.

Finally, when preparing your testimony, there are a few things to avoid.  Don’t quote the second amendment.  The members of the BFPE are well aware of those 27 words that guarantee your freedom.  Don’t make bizarre statements like “Nazi Germany” or statements like “Communism”, “I’m an American”, etc.  They aren’t facts that are pertinent to your case.  Keep your statements and arguments simple and concise.

Here is how the meeting of the BFPE hearing is organized.  There are usually 5 parts to a meeting/hearing.  They are:

  1. Call to order.  This includes a roll call for the present members of this meeting of the BFPE.  A roll call for all appellants and issuing authorities present.  Administration of the oath (everyone testifying is sworn in).  An introductory statement.  This is the overview of the overall process and what you can expect.
  2. Hearings.  The reason you are here.
  3. Secretary’s report.
  4. Cases scheduled and resolved after review
  5. Meeting is adjourned.

The public is usually only there for parts one and two.  After an appellant has their hearing, they usually leave.  We will now focus on these two sections.

Part 1 is rather quick.  It is used to get the meeting started.  State for the record which BFPE members are present.  Roll call so they know what cases they will hear.  This is important because after the first hour of the meeting, they will do this again (or after the current case is concluded).  Usually, after the hour has passed, they will check for any cases missing parties.  Usually, if only one party shows, then the board automatically rules in their favor.  Finally, the oath is administered so all parties present can be sworn in.  These are legal proceedings and everyone needs to be sworn in before they can testify.

Hearings

OK, this is the part you are waiting for.  What happens when your name is called?  Parties are called up to the board.  There are tables opposite the board.  As you face the board, the issuing authority/DPS (Department of Public Safety) will be on the left.  Appellant will sit on the right.  The Appellant is either the person that has been denied a permit or the person that is appealing their permit revocation.  The attorneys on either side will sit in the middle next to each other.

Opening Statements

The issuing authority/DPS is given the first opportunity to state their case and why an appellant has been denied (or permit revoked).  Then it’s the appellant (your) turn.  This is where you tell the board about your case.  Where the state/issuing authority may be wrong in their decision and how you plan to prove you deserve your permit.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have any about the process at this time.  Any question about the process that is not directly about your case is acceptable here before you give your opening statement.  Also, make sure you speak in a clear and audible manner.  Think of it as your “outside” voice.  You want to make sure you are heard by every member of the board.

Issuing Authority/DPS Calling of Witnesses

Again, the state/issuing authority goes first to outline their case.  This is usually either an officer of the issuing authority that has denied or revoked a permit.  This is where most of the case is laid out for the board.  The DPS has someone that is either an attorney or represents the case for the state.  The local issuing authority is often represented by an officer that appears on behalf of the Chief.  Sometimes, the Chief of Police will appear at a permit denial hearing.  They will start asking questions of their witness first.

Then, the appellant or their attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine this witness.  Always in the form of a question.  This is important.  This is not where the appellant testifies (usually the biggest error here is when an appellant starts actually refuting presented information and it turns into their own testimony).  If the witness made any factually deficient statements, here is where the appellant can ask any questions they think would be helpful to their case, like:

  • Was the appellant cooperative through the entire process?
  • Was the pistol stored properly?
  • Did the appellant exercise good judgement when they……….

These types of things that improve the appellants case.  This is where the appellant can outline what they did well.  The state/issuing authority will not bring this up – they want to deny or revoke your permit!  If there are any good points to be made from the issuing authority/officer, this is the time to do it.

This continues until the issuing authority/DPS is done with all their witnesses.  If a board member has a point that requires clarification, they may ask that at any time (through the Chairman of the Board).  When the witness is done testifying, the board can ask any questions they may have.  The board can do this after any witness, regardless of whether they testify on behalf of the issuing authority/DPS or the appellant.

Appellant Calling of Witnesses or Testimony

This is where the appellant starts to make their case.  Either calling witnesses to support their argument or testifying on their own behalf.  There is no specific order for who will testify.  Obviously, the appellant would want questions asked of their witness that will help them plead their case.  The biggest mistake I see here is under cross examination.  Remember, when you interview a witness, you ask questions.  The biggest mistake I see an appellant or their witness make is offering extra information.  This information is often meant to be harmless.  But once it’s offered, the issuing authority/DPS may cross examine that new information.  I’ll give a gross example to illustrate this point:

DPS/Issuing Authority:  “Did you see <appellant> exercise good judgement while drinking alcoholic beverages on this night?”

Witness:  “Yes, not like when we were kids, he has grown a lot”

DPS/Issuing Authority:  “When you were kids, please explain”

Witness: “Well, when we were in our early twenties, we liked to party, have a good time.  Often there would be alcohol or marijuana.  Back then, I don’t think <appellant> would refuse free beer or a joint.  But since then, he has matured and showed great responsibility in his everyday life”

DPS/Issuing Authority:  “So, he has used illicit drugs and drank to excess in the past?”

You can see where this goes.  I said this was a gross exaggeration, but I did see a case that was very much like this one.  A simple “Yes” to the first question would be fine.  But by adding extra information, you opened the door to further examination of someones past.  May not reflect on the person as they are today, but indeed can admit more information.  In no way can a partying lifestyle be a positive, regardless of how long it has been.  But, by offering the extra information…………

When asked a “Yes/No” question, just answer with a yes or no.

Appellant Testimony

This is where the appellant can tell their side of the story.  They don’t have to testify, but if they do not, the board can draw on what is called “adverse inference”. The link to the left will go into further detail.  When the appellant doesn’t testify on their own behalf, the board can wonder why they are afraid to testify.  What might they not want to accidentally let slip.  Looking at the witness testimony example above, the appellant needs to follow the same advice.  When asked a yes/no question, do just that, answer yes or no.

The appellant (or their attorney) then bring out information to support their case and then the DPS/issuing authority can cross examine.  This is much like previous testimony.

Closing arguments

The DPS/issuing authority will plead why they think the appellant should not have a pistol permit and how they feel they proved their case.  The good part, the appellant goes next and can explain why they are a suitable candidate for a pistol permit.  Here are some good things to bring up here:

  • any points to illustrate how they exercise good judgement (especially useful when dealing with permit revocation case).
  • Military discharge/honorable discharge papers.
  • Why is the appellant a good candidate.  Do they have a job?  Family?  Own their own home?  Community involvement?  Church?  Volunteer or civic organizations?  All these can provide positive reinforcement as to the character of the appellant.  Often, if you don’t bring this up, the board will often ask the appellant to tell a little about themselves.
  • Prior employment or personal life experience that relied on good judgement skills
  • Letters from friends, former employers, coworkers that can attest to your overall GOOD character.

Deliberation

Starting with the Chairman of the Board, deliberation will commence.  Each board member will reveal how they vote.  They will often offer information as to how they came up with this conclusion.  They will vote in one of three ways:

  • Approve – support for the appellant to get their permit.
  • Denied – do not feel the appellant should have their permit.
  • Denied, at this time – this is where the board thinks the appellant isn’t ready to get their permit, but thinks they will be and are on the right path.  Often, this is when someone has done something that questions their judgement in the past, but for a period of time, has been shown to be doing better.  If they continue on this path, they can often re-apply and mention that they were told “at this time” and often the second time around, get their permit.  The average is a year and a half or so of additional “good judgement” time.

There has been a recent change as to when deliberations are held.  Prior to the third quarter of 2011, deliberations used to be held at the end of all the hearings.  They changed this recently and deliberate after the case is heard.  This, is  a good thing.  After several hours of testimony, sometimes we may forget the particulars of a given case.  I have seen cases last as short as 5 minutes and as long as 7 hours – for one case!  Multiply this by several hearings and you can see why the newer process is indeed an improvement.

Overall the process is fair.  As far as a “may issue” state can be.  I am for getting rid of the suitability issue altogether.  This state should become a true “shall issue” state.  That is the purpose of this website.  To help people until we get to that point.  Shall issue simply means that unless you have any barriers under federal law, you are granted your permit.  No issuing authorities to deal with.  The majority of states in the US are shall issue when it comes to pistol permits.  Until the day comes when “The Constitution State” joins the rest of the nation, this is the process we must contend with.

I hope this helps, feel free to fill out the contact page with any questions or corrections to this page.

E. Jonathan Hardy