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SJC Reverses Conviction for Unlawful Possession of Loaded Firearm on Grounds that Evidence was Insufficient to Establish Knowledge

air-soft-gun-1-1500175-300x189The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the defendant’s conviction of unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, G.L. c.269, §10(n), in Commonwealth v. Brown because the evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant knew that the firearm discovered by the police in the vehicle driven by the defendant was loaded.

The background was as follows. A state police trooper (Moran) stopped a vehicle the defendant was driving … for a defective rear brake light. There were two passengers in the vehicle.” Moran determined that because the driver’s licenses of the defendant and [one of the passengers] were suspended and “because [the other passenger] did not have a … license, the vehicle would have to be towed from the highway, as none of the occupants legally could drive it. In preparation for towing, Moran conducted an inventory search of the vehicle,” in the course of which he “discovered a handgun loaded with five rounds of ammunition in the console between the rear passenger seats.” “The defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm in a vehicle [c.269, §10(a)] and unlawful possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle [c.269, §10(n)].” “In his appeal…, [he] challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the conviction under G.L. c.269, §10(n), arguing that the Commonwealth was required [but failed] to prove that he knew the firearm was loaded.”

In its decision, the SJC noted that G.L. c.269, §10(a), penalizes the offense of “‘knowingly’” possessing an unlicensed firearm and that G.L. c.269, §10(n), “provides a sentencing enhancement to the crime of unlicensed possession of a firearm where [such a] firearm was loaded.” The latter statute, which does not mention knowledge, “does not create a stand-alone offense; in order to be convicted under … c.269, §10(n), an individual must first have been convicted [of knowingly possessing] under … c.269, §10(a).” In light of this connection between §§10(a) and 10(n), the Court “conclude[d] that, to sustain a conviction under … c.269, §10(n), the Commonwealth must prove that a defendant knew the firearm he or she possessed was loaded.” Here, stated the Court, the Commonwealth failed to present such proof. The Court stated, “[I]t was not possible to discern merely by observation whether the pistol found in the defendant’s vehicle was loaded; the magazine was inserted inside the handle and was not visible. In addition, the Commonwealth did not present any evidence from which an inference could be drawn that the defendant was aware that the firearm was loaded.”

Firearm offenses are extremely serious – they carry mandatory minimum sentences, and on and after time. If you or a loved one is charged with any firearm related offense, it is extremely important that you have an attorney who holds that Commonwealth to its burden and challenges each and every possible element of the offense.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta is such an attorney – he zealously advocates for all his clients to obtain the best possible outcome.  Call him for a consultation today.