The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the rights of U.S. Citizens to keep and bear arms. These protections, while granted in the 18th century with the adoption of the Bill of Rights, are regularly open to reinterpretation by courts. The United States Supreme Court has the final say on constitutional issues such as the Second Amendment, and Supreme Court rulings may have an effect on state criminal prosecutions. The Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion that addressed a defendant’s appeal of his firearm conviction in light of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling which appeared to have broadened the protections of the Second Amendment.
According to the facts discussed in the recently decided opinion, the defendant in the case at issue was arrested and charged with firearms offenses after authorities responded to a tip from a confidential informant that the man possessed an unregistered firearm. After a trial in which the defendant unsuccessfully challenged the evidentiary and legal basis for the charges against him, the defendant was convicted of unlawfully carrying a loaded firearm. Although Massachusetts law exempts license holders from criminal liability under the statute, neither the defense nor the prosecution presented any evidence of the defendant’s possession of a valid license at the time of his arrest.
After the defendant’s conviction, the U.S. The Supreme Court decided the case of New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, in which the court found that the Second Amendment protected citizens’ right to possess a firearm outside of the home. On appeal, the defendant argued that in light of the Bruen decision, the government needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have a valid license to possess the firearm for which he was charged. The state high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the previous law placing the burden on a defendant to prove licensure was no longer valid in light of the Bruen decision, which required the government to establish a lack of a license as an essential element of the crime. Based upon the appellate opinion, the defendant’s conviction was reversed, and verdicts of not guilty were entered on the charges against him.