Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Commonwealth Prosecutors Failed to Establish that Defendant Lacked a Firearms License

 It might seem obvious that in order to convict a defendant of unlawfully carrying a firearm, the prosecution would need to show the absence of a firearms license. However, one defendant in Massachusetts was convicted without the subject of a firearms license even entering into the discussion. The defendant predictably appealed the decision, and this led to an interesting debate surrounding the Second Amendment. In the end, the defendant was able to have most of his charges vacated.

The 2022 Supreme Court Decision That Changed the Outcome of This Case

In 2022, the United States Supreme Court decided that the 1911 Sullivan Act was unconstitutional. This act required New Yorkers to show a special need or “proper cause” in order to gain approval for a concealed carry license. The Supreme Court concluded that the Second Amendment supersedes this act, stating that every United States citizen should have the ability to carry a pistol in public. Arbitrary evaluations such as the “proper cause” requirement are now unconstitutional, while criminal background checks may still result in a denied application. 

So, what does this have to do with the Massachusetts case? First, a little bit of background: The defendant was found with a firearm, bullets, and a large-capacity magazine. His attorney argued that police conducted the search without a warrant, claiming that this violated the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, the defendant found himself facing several charges, including unlawfully carrying a firearm.  

The Burden of Proof Has Shifted

The prosecution was seemingly unaware of the Supreme Court ruling’s implications, as they did not feel that it was necessary to prove the absence of a firearm license during the trial. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the burden of proof was on the defendant. In other words, the defendants accused of unlawfully carrying firearms had to prove that they had a license. Today, however, the situation is completely reversed. The burden of proof now lies with the prosecution, and it is their responsibility to prove the absence of a firearm license. If they fail to do this for whatever reason, the court should presume that the defendant is innocent. 

The court did not presume the defendant’s innocence, and instead, the judge completely failed to take the Supreme Court ruling into account. He also failed to instruct the jury that in order to convict the defendant, they had to see the prosecution establish the lack of a license. 

Eventually, the highest court in the Commonwealth became aware of their mistake and vacated most of the charges made against the defendant. However, they did not vacate the charge related to the extended magazine – arguing that such a device goes beyond a simple need for personal protection. Although this clearly indicates a victory for the defendant, it is somewhat bittersweet. Although the charges were vacated, the Commonwealth remanded the case to the Supreme Court for a new trial. 

What Does This Mean for Gun Owners in Massachusetts?

It’s always a good idea to follow state laws and obtain proper licenses for your firearms. However, the Supreme Court of the United States clearly protects Second Amendment rights and gun owners on a national scale. Sometimes, the Constitution supersedes state law when it comes to gun legislation. Contact Edward R. Molari today to learn more about how you can protect your Second Amendment rights in Massachusetts