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Massachusetts Court Affirms Conviction Based on Accidental Discharge of Firearm

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.

The court held that there is no such “mens rea” requirement, affirming the defendant’s conviction. The court noted that the statute outlining the crime made it a strict liability offense, meaning that a defendant could be found guilty by committing the act described in the statute. In other words, there is no intent element.

The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that his actions were protected under the Second Amendment. The court explained that the statute does not prevent a person from discharging a weapon inside a building if it is done so for the “lawful defense of life or property.” Thus, the court held that the acts covered by the statute were outside the scope of the Second Amendment.

The court went on to acknowledge that some strict liability crimes have been declared unconstitutional. However, the court held this statute was not unconstitutional because 1.) the statute required an action (discharging a firearm), and, 2.) there are many ways for people to avoid the consequences of the law by taking steps to prevent the accidental discharge of a gun. As a result of the court’s decision, the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.

Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts Gun Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a Massachusetts gun crime, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of cases, including Boston gun crimes. To learn more, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.