Baltimore's gun offender registry upheld

Maryland's second-highest court upheld the constitutionality of Baltimore's gun offender registry, a signature effort to curb gun violence that a city judge had called into question two years ago.

The registry requires people convicted of gun crimes to provide addresses and other information to the city every six months for three years, and was modeled after a similar program in New York City.


Circuit Judge Alfred Nance ruled in 2011 that the city's law was "unconstitutionally vague and awfully broad," among other concerns. His decision, however, was not binding on other judges, and the city did not abandon the registry pending the appeal.

Sheryl Goldstein, a former city official who helped create the registry and now works with a national law enforcement think tank, said other jurisdictions, including Chicago, New Orleans and Prince George's County, now have similar registries, and that the challenge to Baltimore's was believed to be a first.


"This is the first constitutional challenge to one, and it was upheld," said Goldstein, director of program development at the Police Executive Research Forum. "So it is a constitutional law enforcement tool that can be used to help keep track of gun offenders and reduce gun crime — a win for the city and also a win for gun registries everywhere."

The case involved Adrian Phillips, who was convicted of armed robbery and handgun offenses in 2008, and was later charged with failing to register as a gun offender. His attorneys argued that the registration process could be used to quiz defendants about recent crimes or to demand cooperation in other investigations, and said the city hadn't filed proper regulations and forms setting out the scope of the registry.

In its opinion, the Court of Special Appeals said Nance's decision to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the law was unconstitutionally vague was "improper."

"Appellee simply failed to re-register, as required," Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff wrote in the opinion. "The commissioner's failure to file forms, if they constituted regulations, had no effect on appellee's duty to re-register, and it did not justify the court's dismissal of the charges against him."