ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower-court ruling denying a state gun carry license to a man who pleaded no contest to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon nearly 20 years ago.
James Hertz pleaded "nolo contendere," or no contest, to five felony charges in Florida in 1994 when he was 18. The Florida court withheld judgment on the charges and sentenced him to three years' probation, which he completed.
He applied for a "weapons carry license" in September 2012. Quitman County Probate Judge Andrew Bennett denied his application because of the no-contest plea to the Florida felony charges. Convicted felons cannot get a carry license in Georgia. State law treats the acceptance of a no-contest plea as a conviction.
Hertz appealed to the high court, arguing that the Florida judge's withholding of a judgment is equivalent to a no-contest plea in Georgia that gets first-offender treatment. Georgia law says someone who completes a first-offender program is eligible for a weapons carry license as long as no other exceptions apply.
Hertz also argued that the probate judge's decision violated his constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
In the opinion published Monday Justice Carol Hunstein writes, "(b)ecause Hertz's nolo contendere plea makes him ineligible for a weapons carry license under Georgia law, and the statute as applied to him does not violate the United States or Georgia Constitutions, we affirm" the lower court's decision.
The law being challenged in this case doesn't involve the constitutional right to own a gun, Hunstein wrote, adding that Hertz "has the right to possess a handgun inside his home, motor vehicle, or place of business without a weapons carry license."