The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld a New Hampshire man's conviction for illegal gun possession, saying that his spending a night camping in the woods south of the border before walking down I-93 on his way to Michigan did not qualify him for the 60-day waiver of our gun-licensing requirements granted to new residents of the state.
James Paul found himself under arrest after a Massachusetts state trooper noticed him walking on the side of the interstate about six miles south of the New Hampshire line early on the morning of Aug. 5, 2015, stopped to tell him to get off the highway and then agreed to give him a lift to the gas station just past 495, where Paul said he'd be meeting a friend for a ride west, towards Michigan. According to the court's summary of the case:
The trooper asked the defendant if he had any weapons, to which the defendant replied in the affirmative, pointing to his backpack, stating that "his uniform" was in it and that he worked for Homeland Security. The trooper repeated his question, and the defendant "stated that there was a firearm in the bag." The defendant complied with the trooper's instruction to step back. The defendant directed the trooper to where in the backpack the firearm was located. The trooper located a Ruger SR9 semiautomatic pistol in its holster, loaded with five rounds of ammunition, and a second fully loaded magazine, and secured the weapon. Other items in the bag included an active New Hampshire license to carry a firearm, a New Hampshire driver's license, the defendant's passport, a water purification kit, and other items indicative of someone camping.
Paul's attorney tried to get the unlawful-possession charge dismissed, on the grounds that Paul had spent the night camping in the woods on the Massachusetts side of the state line, which therefore made him a "new resident" eligible for the 60-day licensing waiver. The judge, however, denied the request and denied the attorney's motion to instruct the jury on that as a possible reason to find Paul not guilty.
The judge noted that contrary to an earlier proffer by defense counsel, she was not aware of any evidence that the defendant was "moving into the Commonwealth" or that he had any plans to remain in Massachusetts. Defense counsel argued that the jury could draw a reasonable inference that at the time of the defendant's arrest he was a resident of Massachusetts because he was then in Massachusetts, and they could infer that the defendant had spent the previous night camping in Massachusetts which would satisfy the statutory requirement that one had to be "moving into the Commonwealth" to come within the [licensing] exemption.
After the jury found Paul guilty, he appealed.
In its ruling today, the appeals court agreed with the trial judge. After first considering just what the legislature meant by the term "new resident," the court concluded that that was something Paul was not:
In the present case, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant, he was in Massachusetts to meet a friend at a gas station and had a plan to move on to Michigan. There was no evidence that the defendant intended to stay in Massachusetts for any longer than necessary to meet his friend before continuing his travels to other States; thus, there is no basis in the evidence to support an inference that he was "a new resident moving into the commonwealth." The judge, therefore, was correct in denying the defendant's request for an instruction on the [licensing] exemption.
In March, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld another exemption to the licensing law that might have worked in Paul's favor: That a resident of one state with a gun permit there can traverse Massachusetts on his way to another state without needing a Massachusetts gun permit - at least as long as the gun is unloaded. That case also involved a New Hampshire man, but one who claimed he was exempt from licensing under that exemption, only the court ruled he had actually become a Massachusetts resident.
The appeals court did agree with Paul that a separate conviction, of possession of a loaded weapon, should be dismissed, because the judge failed to tell jurors that to convict on that charge, they needed to be convinced prosecutors had proved Paul knew his gun was loaded. However, that does not change the 18-month jail sentence he got on the charge of unlawful possession of a firearm.