For one Vermonter, a 2015 law turned a prior misdemeanor into a violent crime — and now he can’t own guns

A Vermont hunter and shooting-sports enthusiast has lost his right to own a gun without any judge, jury or due process after actions taken by the Legislature recategorized one of his prior offenses as a violent crime.

Swanton resident Lenny Bates finds himself in a predicament over a misdemeanor restraining order violation from about a decade ago. In 2015, the Legislature reclassified such nonviolent acts as violent crimes, giving Bates a criminal record he thought he settled long ago through a plea agreement.

Lenny Bates

Lenny Bates: “If a citizen doesn’t have the financial means, there’s nothing they can do, and that’s so wrong.”

Bates’ case involves a VAPO, or “violation of an abuse prevention order.”

According to Bates, he attended a county fair one year and discovered that a former partner, whom he was not allowed to see due to a restraining order, was also at the fair. Realizing that close proximity with his ex-girlfriend wasn’t permitted, he left the grounds.

However, the incident was reported and Bates was charged with violating his abuse prevention order — a misdemeanor.

Bates says he accepted the charge because it was nonviolent and wouldn’t result in the loss of any of his rights, such as his Second Amendment right to own a gun.

“It was cheaper for myself and the state to accept a plea agreement and move on as life intended,” Bates told True North. “I kept my firearms, and I had possession of my firearms for years after we had a plea agreement.”

The original abuse prevention order, Bates said, was issued after he gave a “nudge” to his ex-partner to get her attention so they could step outside to talk.

“I told the judge what I did,” he said. “I didn’t think I could get in trouble for what I did.”

While the original incident didn’t result in a conviction, the judge granted the former partner a restraining order, which Bates says he intended to honor.

In 2015, however, the Vermont Legislature reclassified violations of an abuse prevention orders as violent crimes. The change instantly reclassified Bates’ infraction — which he committed prior to 2015 — and now he is prohibited from owning guns.

Bates said he has spent $9,000 in attorney fees trying to undo the whole situation, only to be told that he can’t withdraw his plea agreement and can’t get the original charge expunged. His only option now is to go to court.

“If a citizen doesn’t have the financial means, there’s nothing they can do, and that’s so wrong,” Bates said. “You’ve got to take it to court.”

He added that anyone charged with a VAPO prior to the 2015 change in the law now has increased penalties for an act committed before the law existed.

In an attempt to right the situation, Bates’ lawyer, Maryanne Kampmann, of Stetler, Allen, Kampmann & Sussman, a criminal defense law firm in Burlington, sent a letter to retired Vermont Superior Court Judge Ben Joseph.

“It’s unfair to those Vermont hunters who pled guilty to a misdemeanor VAPO prior to 2015 to suddenly find themselves disqualified from gun ownership based on this change in the law,” Kampmann’s letter states. “Hunting is of paramount importance to many Vermonters. Often times those criminal cases were specifically resolved in ways that would avoid disqualifying a client from gun ownership so the client could continue to hunt.”

Other state officials are aware of the situation: Bates has spoken with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero; state Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton; state Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin; and Gov. Phil Scott.

Savage told True North in an interview that Bates is caught in an ex-post-facto situation in which the Legislature has retroactively changed the legal consequences of actions committed before the law was in place.

“It would be like you getting a speeding ticket for going 70 in a 50 mile-an-hour zone, and five years later they lower that speed limit to 30, and so they are going to recharge you with the 70 in the 30,” Savage said. “It’s very similar to that, so this has definitely got merit.”

Savage says he drafted legislation last year that would update the 2015 law so it wouldn’t apply to prior convictions. While that proposed update was written as an amendment to a separate bill, Savage said this year he will make the bill stand-alone legislation.

Bates says his efforts aren’t about defending his name or reputation, but about making sure people don’t lose constitutional protections.

“I don’t care what you feel about me or anyone else that has a misdemeanor VAPO prior to the law change,” he said. “Regardless of what crime was committed, a state shall not violate federal constitutional laws.”

He added that there may be many other Vermonters in his position who have been reclassified and not even know it.

“So basically what happened was, everyone that had their firearms in my situation and didn’t know it, [they] still had their firearms, and they are breaking the law,” he said.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Lenny Bates
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23 thoughts on “For one Vermonter, a 2015 law turned a prior misdemeanor into a violent crime — and now he can’t own guns

  1. Vermont legislators have ruined the beautiful state I grew up in! I am in NH now, but some Dem is always trying to legislate new “feel good” laws so it is a constant battle. I hope Lenny Bates can get people to contribute to his fight which will help protect us all!

  2. This is a complete miscarriage of justice, it sounds like someone don’t like him and turned him in. Maybe his ex girl friends new boy friend.

  3. The ” feel gooders” strike again. Plowing ahead full bore with no thought to the unintended consequences leaving folks like Lenny Bates stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  4. I don’t know how you can overturn stupid laws when it originates from stupid legislators. It needs to be overturned at the grass roots. I’ve read articles noting lawyers that have taken on the establishment. Perhaps they’ll take up you case as being unconstitutional and the VT Supreme Court.

    I note, these lawyers seem to be dedicated to a cause:
    1) Vermont Lawyer Jean Murray Takes on the Debt-Collection Industry (link is external)

    Attorney Jean Murray drove more than three hours and had a few choice words for her car’s GPS before she arrived in Newfane last month to defend a client in a debt-collection case. But once she arrived in court, it was all over in a hot minute.
    VT Watchdog Article (from seven days):
    https://www.vtlegalaid.org/vermont-watchdog-march-31-2017

    2) Another Attorney: St. Johnsbury based attorney Deborah Bucknam
    She has written articles for TNR, recent being:
    http://www.truenorthreports.com/bucknam-now-is-the-time-congressman-welch I find her very astute.

    Another good common sense legislator from Bennington (D): Cynthia Browning. She has won praise from many TNR commentators.

    Interviews by Meg Hanson published in TNR: Dialogues with Meg Hansen
    For instance: http://www.truenorthreports.com/dialogues-with-meg-hansen-vermonters-vs-vermont-health-connect

    National Gun organizations to contact: Gun Owners of America (Erich Pratt), NRA

    Opposite VT’s, there are towns require you to carry: Kennesaw and Nelson, Georgia and Nucla CO.

    Exposure is the name of the game. The Montpelier cockroaches don’t like light hitting them and will hide.

  5. To note: Chris Bates D-Bennington a reported felon (record from an IL Court case) moved here and is in possession of firearms. TNR has articles about him and showing recent pics of his handling a rifle. This same Bates introduced legislation to ban air rifles, the point being they weren’t effective against big game. If a felon can have a rifle and nothing was confiscated, then how Lenny Bates be crucified and laid out to be punished by a minor happenstance? Need contacts with understanding legislators and push for an overhaul. Lenny’s case affects the basic core of human rights. There are Constitutional grounds.

    It would seem that John Klar (running for Gov) who writes nice articles about the concerns of Government could highlight this problem and put it in his running platform as a positive point to run on. Also there’s Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP, Caledonia Record’s Todd Smith, the NE Kingdom Legislators such as Sen Joe Benning R-Caledonia (Lyndonville), Scott Beck, Martha Feltus etc. I pick Caledonia county as they are more common-sensible (R). Also there’s the gun clubs:
    North Country Sportsmen’s Club, Barre Fish and Game Club, Gun Owners of Vermont-Ed Cutler and a few more.

    That’s a suggestion. Fight the situation where the problem started, in Montpelier. Don’t need greedy lawyers for that. Need protesting heads.

    I wonder if his “VT felon situation” would apply if living in another state-NH? NH is / has far more common sense for instance. “Live free or Die”

    Just what is these Flatlander Socialists thinking of when they passed
    stupid laws like this. No wonder the state is going to hell. As a comment herein mentioned, it’s the total elimination of guns, by hook or crook.

    In the meantime, hunt with a crossbow, muzzle loader. Not the same, but still gives you the nice feeling of getting out in the woods. Good luck and thoughts.

    • Eddie Cutler is well aware. In fact I asked him if I could post a go fund me account on Gun Owners of VT FB site to help with my Attorney Fees and was told No.
      I’m no longer a Member of Gun Owners of VT. Seems to be Clear to me that He should have offered ANY assistance period, like Allow me to use the forum to help get what happened out their.
      That’s fine because I’m getting used to being Discriminated against because of the Non-Violent Misdemeanor Crime Classifies as a Domestic under VT Violent crimes.
      When a Firearms organization that runs on a Platform of Protection of Gun owners rights Excludes you, and Hides behind Law Abiding Citizens as a reason not to Help. Well my friends a Speeding ticket is a Violation of Law. So 99% of you are NOT a Law Abiding citizen. SO do not discriminate against me because of the Classification of a Misdemeanor Crime. We are all supposed to be on the Same team. These organizations had no problems taking my donations to fight against the lawsuits etc. I never owned a semi automatic, or large capacity mag. But I was their to support you. Spent a week at the Capital speaking with many people about the Issue I have.
      All I get is oh that sucks! Don’t tell me something I already know, help out, call your Legislators and the Governor and Demand it be fixed.

    • Let me be Clear! Yes I appreciate everyone’s support and acknowledgment of the fact that I have been wrongfully treated by the State, which Violates Us Constitutional Law and end results of removing my Firearms rights.
      That’s NOT the biggest problem with what happened.
      Gun owners and Non Gun Owners need to be aware that if VT Legislation gets away with this then Nobody has ANY constitutional protection. It gives them a president that they can do whatever they want to any said group of people.
      They can change or add onto any Law at anytime because they know have the Ultimate Powers, Powers above the peoples they represent and Powers above ANY constitutional law. Every one should be afraid of that!

    • Tom Chase wrote:
      “I wonder if his ‘VT felon situation’ would apply if living in another state-NH? NH is / has far more common sense for instance. ‘Live free or Die’.”

      Yes it would apply. No, NH is no “better” and will get worse as this current legislative session rolls along.

      A Felony or Misdemeanor Domestic Violence conviction would prohibit possession in NH, and there’s no legislative sympathy for “a crime of violence against women and children”.

      • Reading Lenny’s remarks, it was a misdemeanor years ago. When he went to a public event he was told his ex was there and he left. No confrontation. Someone reported him there. In a public event such as this, people get lost in a crowd easily and rare if you recognize someone. The “crime” was absolved. Believe you’d have same concerns if this happened to you. It only became a felon situation upon passing the law years after. This is all stated herein.

        I have sympathy for Lenny, I’ve heard many such stories. No honor for previous determined and settled cases?

        I’m surprised about Ed Cutler. I had thought about giving up my NRA and joining him, being local. VT needs a turn around in the Montpelier mindset.

      • Ya, NH has been infiltrated by Liberal Flatlanders (some 40 at the last election) and common sense isn’t vogue. I have lived there when the state was great and it was financially reasonable.

  6. Sorry to hear you got caught up in the fascist Democrats gun grabbing plan Lennie. I’m probably in the same boat with multiple DWI’s after returning from Vietnam… a combat Marine who can’t own a gun, how stupid a government can get in it’s need to control the populace. I would suggest setting up a “go fund me” to help with your fight against the fascist and maybe a well worded letter to the NRA wouldn’t hurt as well. Personally I will arm up when needed without the use of federal or local registries, my right to arms is guaranteed by the 2nd amendment and I’ll not conceded to any local flatlander law.

  7. Just one more way that they intend to disarm as many people as they possibly can by any and every means.

  8. Not only did the law change wrongly removed my firearms rights, when added to the VT Violent crime category it is now. Crime that cannot be expunged. Also can’t pull the plea agreement because you have 90 days to withdraw a plea agreement and I had no reason to till Years later.
    It also removed my children’s firearms from them because I live in the house hold obviously. So the Unconstitutional law has Burdens on my children forcing him to use a Muzzle Loader for youth etc.
    I personally am asking everyone to contact their legislators and Phil Scot about this and demand they fix it.
    If they can do this to me and many other people with the same misdemeanor Crime, then they have a President and can do it to any other crime.
    Ever had a DWI? Could have them rip your license for life with a swipe of a pen, even if it was 30 years ago, and you have not had a drink in 20 years. You get the picture. Please help me in getting this fixed. Thanks!

  9. “Every law that makes criminal an act that was innocent when done, or that inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when committed, is an ex post facto law within the prohibition of the Constitution.”

    Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798); Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 333, 377 (1867); Burgess v. Salmon, 97 U.S. 381, 384 (1878). back

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan/article-1/section-9/clause-3/ex-post-facto-laws

    • Make no mistake. The law is complicated.

      “The prohibition against state ex post facto laws, like the cognate restriction imposed on the Federal Government by § 9, relates only to penal and criminal legislation and not to civil laws that affect private rights adversely.”

      But there are limits.

      “Because it made more onerous the punishment for crimes committed before its enactment, a law that altered sentencing guidelines to make it more likely that the sentencing authority would impose on a defendant a more severe sentence than was previously likely and making it impossible for the defendant to challenge the sentence was ex post facto as to one who had committed the offense prior to the change.”
      https://law.justia.com/constitution/us/article-1/70-ex-post-facto-laws.html

      Who wins in this case? The lawyers.

    • Yes it Clearly Violates US Constitutional Law.
      Problem is that they are aware of that and have not fixed it.
      It’s going too take more than myself to get this resolved appropriately.
      Not to mention that I am $9k Deep in a Attorney since I became aware that they changed the law and yielded no results.
      All money that the State should be returning to me for Violating my rights.

      • It’s not clearly unconstitutional. That’s my point. If your violation is ‘civil’, there is an argument that the ex poste facto law does not apply.

        You need a good lawyer…and maybe a ‘go fund me page’.

  10. I’m happy (and not surprised) that Rep. Savage is willing to help in this case. Mr. Bates could have saved some time and not contacted Corey Parent, who rarely seems able to find the time to help constituents.

  11. This is totally ridiculous. Why is a citizen being punished for breaking a law that wasn’t a law when it happened. Where do these people come from that enact this stupid crap. He should sue the State for it is totally unconstitutional.

    • The sex offender registry is another example of the same thing. It mandated people convicted 30 years prior to it’s implementation when many people might have fought in court. Of course for those who know this man, his explation of events, leaves a lot to be desired

      • There are not really any Prior Case laws that involve Expost Facto Laws that are relevant to this case.
        When I took it to Civil Court the State Attorney tried using that Case Law. It’s not even close. A registered address doesn’t add Punishment until they fail to register and Break the new Law, that’s when they get extra punishment and that is from violating a new law that was broken. So they didn’t receive extra punishment and their Crime is already public information so registering was for public Safety.
        This situation is different. One didn’t have to break any new laws, But received harsher punishment for past crime. The case laws are lacking because Legislators typically follow Constitutional Laws.
        The State Attorney pleaded with the Judge that if he use his executive powers and removed my charges that their were 1000s of cases that she didn’t want to get back logged with. That’s not my problem nor should she have begged the judge to side with her with that Statement, but the Judge
        wouldn’t make a verdict and I had to wait for over 30 days for him to write a response. Not Once in his Denial of my request for him to use his executive powers state that I was not Violated by the State because of Ex post Facto Law. But instead used other Laws like only having 90 days to withdraw Pleas etc etc. skirted around the Issue and sided with the State Attorney. With a Closing Statement of he has to have faith in Legislation and they know what they are doing. When they In fact DONT.
        I was first Informed of the Ex Post Facto Law Violation from Retired Ex Judge Ben Joseph. Who asked my attorney to write a letter to legislation etc. When he brought it up to his Colleagues they didn’t want to hear it.
        Ironically no funding was put into his RE-election campaign from the Democratic Party and he lost his seat.

  12. Wake up Vermont, this should open the eyes of everyone with all these new liberal
    ” red flag laws ” being introduced, you could also be in a catch 22.

    I don’t know Mr.Bates but pleading to a misdemeanor before and now legislation
    states it’s a criminal offense ……… is pure BS.

    Vermont Gun owners, they’ll try and get you one way or another, remember at
    polls.

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