A frequently litigated issue under § 922(g)(1) is whether a convicted felon is exempt from the prohibitions of the statute because of a post-conviction restoration of civil rights under State law. In accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20), a conviction does not disqualify an individual from possessing firearms if the person convicted "has had civil rights restored." In § 922(g)(1) cases based upon a State felony conviction, courts have uniformly looked to the law of the State where the conviction was obtained to determine whether the defendant's civil rights have been restored and whether such action has nullified the conviction's incidental prohibition on firearms possession. With respect to Federal felony convictions, the Supreme Court declared in Beecham v. United States, 511 U.S. 368 (1994), that only Federal law can nullify the effect of the conviction through expungement, pardon, or restoration of civil rights. This is so, the Court ruled, even though there is no Federal procedure for restoring the civil rights of Federal felons.
In United States v. Ramos, 961 F.2d 1003, 1009 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, ___U.S.___, 113 S. Ct. 364 (1992), the court held that the term "restored" in § 921(a)(20) requires the State to make an "individualized official judgment" that the defendant should be excepted from the prohibitions of § 922(g)(1). The Criminal Division takes the position that where State law contains any provision purporting to restore civil rights -- either upon application by the defendant or automatically upon the completion of a sentence -- it should be given effect. It is not necessary that the State issue an individualized certificate reflecting the judgment of State officials regarding an individual defendant. The Ramos case should be limited to its unique facts and not extended in attempts to nullify the effect of other State schemes for civil rights restoration. A State restoration document that is absolute on its face should disqualify the affected State felon from prosecution under § 922(g)(1) unless the facts of the case strongly support a finding that the felon had actual notice of his/her continuing State firearms disability despite the terms of the restoration document.
[cited in JM 9-63.500]