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Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

In a recent opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling analyzing sentencing enhancements in crimes committed while in possession of a firearm. The underlying case involved a defendant who was tried and convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant was also tried under a Massachusetts law that provides enhanced penalties for those who commit crimes while in possession of a firearm. The statute specifically states that an individual who is found to have committed a crime punishable by imprisonment in state prison while in possession of a firearm must receive at least five years imprisonment in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense. The defendant appealed his conviction under this statute.

The defendant argued that his enhanced penalty could not be based on his underlying convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that doing so was contrary to legislative intent and violated principles of double jeopardy. However, the court rejected his argument and denied his appeal. Speaking to legislative intent, the court noted that nothing within the statute prevented the Commonwealth from relying on the defendant’s specific underlying convictions. The court also interpreted the statute as intending to be used exactly as it had been in this case: to create an independent crime punishable by a separate sentence required to be served in addition to the underlying offense.

The court also stated that the defendant’s conviction and sentence did not violate the principles of double jeopardy. The prohibition against double jeopardy protects a person from being punished or tried twice for the same crime. In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed out that the statute creates a separate crime from the underlying root felony. Because the statute creates an entirely different crime from the underlying offense, a separate conviction and sentence do not violate principles of double jeopardy.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case discussing the required elements that the prosecution must establish before a judge or jury can return a conviction. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he lacked knowledge of the specifics of the weapon that subjected it to regulation. Instead, the court held that a defendant need only know that the weapon was a firearm “in the conventional sense of the word.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a group of friends were out for the night, stopping by several parties. As they arrived at a hotel after one of the parties, they met up with the defendant. After picking up the defendant, the group then went to another party. The defendant got out of the car, grabbed a weapon that belonged to one of the other occupants, and fired it twice into the air.

Police responded to the scene, but were unable to find the weapon of the bullets. They did, however, find two shell casings for a 9mm bullet. Police were also able to obtain surveillance video footage, showing a man raising an object into the air and then two flashes of light coming from the object. The defendant was arrested and charged with the unlawful possession of a firearm.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case discussing the “intent” element that must be established by the prosecution to find someone guilty of a discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building. Ultimately, the court determined that even an accidental discharge of a firearm can be the basis for such a charge, affirming the defendant’s conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant, who split his time between Maine and Massachusetts, owned a firearm. The defendant did not have a license in Massachusetts, but was eligible to own the gun in Maine, where no license is required. One day, the defendant had some friends over. One of the friends was interested in buying the gun from the defendant. The defendant took out the gun, showed it to his friend, and then went to put the gun back in the case. However, the defendant did not realize that there was a bullet in the chamber. When he pulled the trigger, which was necessary to do to disassemble the gun, it fired. The bullet went through his friend’s hand.

The defendant was charged and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, as well as with discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building. On appeal, the defendant argued that he could not be convicted of discharging the firearm, because he accidentally fired the gun. Thus, the court was tasked with determining whether the offense of discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a public building contained a requirement that the defendant intentionally fired a gun.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case involving the legality of an inventory search that was performed by the arresting officers. Ultimately, the court concluded that the inventory search was not permissible because there was a passenger in the car that could have driven the vehicle from the scene, and the officers’ failure to give the driver that option rendered the search illegal.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed a car with a defective rear brake light. The officers ran the tags, and discovered that the owner of the vehicle, the defendant, had an outstanding warrant. The officers pulled over the car.

The defendant was driving. The police officers asked both the defendant and his passenger for their drivers’ licenses, at which point the officers learned that the passenger had a valid license, had no warrants, and was not a suspect in any outstanding crime. The passenger was cooperative and did not appear to be under the influence.

Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court to determine if the police officers legally stopped the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed and dangerous. As a result, they did not have the legal authority to conduct a pat frisk of the defendant or to search his vehicle.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed the defendant’s vehicle had a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker. The officers turned on their overhead lights and, after driving for a short while, the defendant pulled into a residential driveway and got out of the car. As the officers approached, the defendant looked into his vehicle a few times. The officers ordered the defendant to stay put, and patted him down, finding a knife. The officers then asked the defendant is he had any other weapons in the car, and he admitted that there was a firearm inside. The defendant was arrested and charged with various Massachusetts gun crimes. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reason to search him or his vehicle.

The court began its analysis by noting that the initial traffic stop was legal, as the defendant’s car was observed to have a cracked windshield and expired registration. The court also noted that the defendant voluntarily exited his vehicle, leaving the only question for the court to answer being whether the officers had legal justification to patfrisk the defendant and to search his car.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case demonstrating how strictly the state’s gun laws are enforced. Ultimately, the court upheld the conviction of a man who was licensed to carry in New Hampshire but failed to obtain his Massachusetts license within 60 days of moving into the state.  According to the court’s opinion, the defendant lived with his girlfriend. One day, the defendant got into a fight with his girlfriend and became verbally abusive. The defendant packed his belongings, including a gun that he kept in the closet, and left the residence. The defendant told his girlfriend that he was going to spend the night in New Hampshire; however, the defendant ended up going to a bar to have a few drinks.

Later that evening, the defendant came back to his girlfriend’s apartment and, again, was verbally abusive when confronted by his girlfriend about being intoxicated. Ultimately, the defendant’s girlfriend fled the apartment out of fear for her safety. She called the police and informed them that the defendant was in her apartment and had a gun. She was not sure if it was in the apartment or the car.

Police arrived on the scene, and confirmed that the defendant owned a weapon. Police asked to hold onto the gun for safekeeping. The defendant was not arrested that evening; however, his girlfriend sought and was issued a protection order. Later, the defendant was charged with the unlicensed possession of a firearm. The defendant was licensed to carry a gun in New Hampshire; however, he had not obtained his Massachusetts license at the time of his arrest. A jury convicted the defendant, and he filed an appeal.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts violation of probation hearing that was premised on the defendant’s alleged possession of an unlicensed firearm. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the quantum of evidence necessary to sustain a violation of probation.

The Facts

The defendant was a juvenile who was placed on probation for an unarmed robbery. While on probation, the defendant was arrested for the possession of a firearm without a license. Evidently, police responded to a call for an instance of breaking and entering. Upon entering the residence, police found several teens in the attic. The defendant was sitting on a chair with a black jacket draped over the back of it.

The police officers put all the teens up against the wall after seeing what they believed to be a handgun protruding out of another teen’s jacket. After searching all the teenagers, police officers found a gun in the black jacket that was draped over the chair that the defendant was sitting in. Later in the evening, two of the teens in the attic told police that the black jacket belonged to the defendant. However, one of the other teens told police that it was his jacket.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case discussing whether a defendant who is found guilty of a qualifying offense, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent of another qualifying juvenile offense, can be sentenced as a repeat offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In discussing the issue, the court conducted an analysis of the Eighth Amendment protection from “cruel and usual” punishment. However, the court ultimately concluded that qualifying juvenile adjudications may count as predicate offenses under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in a Massachusetts gun case. After a jury trial, but before the defendant was sentenced, the issue was raised as to whether the defendant should be sentenced under the ACCA as a repeat offender. Specifically, the issue presented to the court was whether the defendant’s juvenile adjudications, of which there were two, counted as “convictions” under the ACCA.

The Massachusetts ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment under which those who have previous qualifying convictions are sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences based on the number of previous qualifying convictions. The mandatory sentence for each subsequent conviction gets longer, ultimately reaching a sentence of 15 to 20 years for those with three or more qualifying convictions.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court determine if a firearm that was recovered from the defendant after he was illegally stopped by police should be suppressed. The court found that the defendant’s act of punching the police officer after the illegal search had begun was an intervening criminal act justifying the defendant’s arrest and the officers’ subsequent search. Thus, the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress was affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

Several police officers were in an unmarked car when they observed what they believed to be a drug transaction. The officers circled back to see if they could confirm their suspicions, but by the time they returned to where the transaction had occurred the parties had left.

Shortly after, the officers came across a group of several men, one of whom was the defendant. Another one of the men was a known gang member. Initially, the officers thought that they may have been involved in the drug transaction, but upon approaching, they realized that not to be the case. Nevertheless, the officers exited their car and frisked members of the group, including the defendant. Nothing was recovered.

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Over the years, police have tried a number of different investigative tactics to uncover illegal activities and arrest those they believe to be engaged in such activities. In general, the United States and Massachusetts constitutions outline the protections individuals have from intrusive, unfair, or coercive police conduct, and courts will apply these constitutional principles to enforce the rights of individuals when necessary. More often than not, this results in the exclusion of evidence obtained illegally through a motion to suppress.One way that police try to uncover illegal narcotic activity is through the use of confidential informants. A confidential informant is often a citizen with no law enforcement experience who agrees to cooperate with the police. Often, these individuals have some kind of “inside” knowledge through their relationship with those who are the target of the police investigation.

The use of confidential informants, however, presents major concerns because an informant’s tip can lead to the issuance of a warrant, or it may be the basis for an arrest or search. That being the case, Massachusetts courts only allow police to act on certain kinds of tips from confidential informants. A recent case illustrates how courts analyze cases involving confidential informants.

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