Kennedy in handcuffs is escorted by a Shelby County Sheriffs Deputy to his car and transported from the polling place. Robert Kennedy, Jr, a founding member of Bama Carry a gun rights group was arrested as he attempted to vote in Pelham, Alabama Tuesday November 4, 2014 while carrying a firearm.
A Pelham man was convicted Friday on misdemeanor charges he illegally wore, in open view, a holstered pistol at a polling site during last year’s Nov. 4 general election.
Robert Kennedy Jr., 59, was convicted in a bench trial before Shelby County District Court Judge Daniel A. Crowson Jr. on charges of voting obstruction and possession of firearms at certain places.
Crowson sentenced Kennedy to 30 days in jail, but suspended it 24 months and placed him on unsupervised probation for each conviction, with both sentences running concurrent.
Kennedy’s attorney, Joe Hubbard of Montgomery, said they believe the judge got it wrong and they are appealing the conviction.
“At the end of the day he (the judge) won’t have the last word on Mr. Kennedy or on Alabamians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights,” Hubbard said. “There is no provision of law that requires a law abiding citizen to give up one right – the right to bear arms – to exercise another constitutional right – the right to vote.”
Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn said he could not comment on the case because it is being appealed.
Alabama Supreme Court
One of those in the audience for Kennedy’s trial was Jason Dean Tulley, of Jacksonville, Hubbard said.
While the trial was going on the Alabama Supreme Court on Friday overturned Tulley’s conviction under another state gun law – “carrying a pistol on premises not one’s own or under his control.” The court ruled the law was unconstitutional on its face because in 1940 the punishment provision of the law had been dropped during a recodification of state law.
Tulley had been convicted in the City of Jacksonville’s municipal court for openly carrying a pistol on his hip while inside the First Educators Credit Union on March 31, 2011.
An off-duty police officer working security at the credit union told Tulley to leave the credit union and put the gun in his car. Tulley, who at the time also had a conceal carry permit, argued his rights but eventually complied. Tulley was charged days later.
While Kennedy and Tulley were prosecuted under different gun laws, Hubbard said there is a parallel.
The City of Jacksonville placed penalties on a law where legislators had not assigned penalties and Shelby County put up signs at polling places where legislators had not intended them to be, Hubbard said.
Hubbard said he believes the Alabama Supreme Court ruling in the Tulley case speaks clearly that the law “does not allow other government actors to act outside the legislature’s authority.”
One charge alleged Kennedy violated Alabama Code Section 17-17-33 –”Obstruction, intimidation, etc., of voting rights of others.” The law states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to obstruct, intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he or she may choose, or for the purpose of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for state or local office or any other proposition at any election.”
Hubbard said the judge’s rationale was that the open carry of a firearm into a polling place was, on its face, evidence that the law had been violated.
The prosecution did not put on any evidence Kennedy prevented any one from casting a ballot or tried to influence their vote for a particular candidate, Hubbard said.
Kennedy was also charged on two counts under two different sections of a law banning possession of a firearm at certain places.
Under section B of that law a person, even with a legal weapons permit, may not, “without the express permission of a person or entity with authority over the premises, knowingly possess or carry a firearm inside any building or facility to which access of unauthorized persons and prohibited articles is limited during normal hours of operation by the continuous posting of guards and the use of other security features, including, but not limited to, magnetometers, key cards, biometric screening devices, or turnstiles or other physical barriers.”
The judge, however, dismissed the Section B charge after Hubbard said he argued that section did not carry a punishment provision.
Crowson, however, did find Kennedy guilty under another section of that law – Section D which requires that any firearm on the premises of any facility described in that law “must be kept from ordinary observation and locked within a compartment or in the interior of the person’s motor vehicle or in a compartment or container securely affixed to the motor vehicle.”
A Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy arrested Kennedy, a founding member of BamaCarry, on Nov. 4 at the poll located in the Pelham First Baptist Church Annex building. Kennedy was armed with a loaded .357 Magnum Taurus revolver in a holster. A sign prohibiting firearms was posted on the building’s front door.
Kennedy also had made news when he voted while wearing a holstered pistol at the same location in the primary election runoff on July 15, 2014.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office had taken a stance against allowing weapons at polling sites, with “No Firearm” signs posted at each poll.