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California to seek review of decision overturning body-armor law

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown will petition the state Supreme Court to review a lower court's ruling that overturned a law barring violent offenders from possessing body armor.

December 30, 2009|By Robert Faturechi

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has come out against a recent appellate court judgment overturning a law that bars violent felons from possessing body armor. His office will petition the state Supreme Court next month to review the decision, his office said Tuesday.

"Every day, California's law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect our communities," Brown said in a prepared statement. "Allowing violent felons to possess military-grade body armor puts their lives further at risk and jeopardizes public safety."

The petition to the state Supreme Court will be filed by mid-January, according to Brown's staff.

The court is not obligated to review the decision, but law enforcement groups nonetheless hailed Brown's announcement.

"We're extremely happy that he decided to appeal that decision," said Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for LAPD officers. "We're talking about serious, hard-core criminals. They're violent offenders, and they want to have a tactical advantage over the police."

The decade-old ban was enacted after the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, a confrontation between Los Angeles police and two heavily armed and armored bank robbers that received wide media coverage. The state Legislature passed the law in 1998 as a measure to protect police.

But the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overturned the state law earlier this month, saying it was unconstitutional because the definition of body armor was too vague.

The challenge to the body armor ban came after the Los Angeles Police Department's 2007 arrest of Ethan Saleem, a parolee who had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

Saleem was arrested when police noticed that he was wearing a 10-pound, bulletproof vest beneath his shirt, according to court records.

"Certainly, Saleem wasn't wearing body armor because he was going to a job interview or going on a date," the union said in a statement released soon after the appellate court decision.

The attorney defending Saleem argued that the law failed to clearly define what constituted body armor. The Legislature deferred to a complicated set of guidelines designed for police departments, the lawyer argued, and only a munitions expert would be able to decipher them.

Police said the notion that violent felons would be unsure if they were wearing body armor was laughable.

"We're hoping the California Supreme Court will decide to overturn it," said Weber, whose organization represents nearly 10,000 officers.

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