Massachusetts Appeals Court Clarifies Proof Needed to Convict a Defendant of Carrying a Loaded Gun

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed a defendant’s conviction for carrying a loaded firearm, concluding that the evidence was insufficient to prove the defendant knew the gun was loaded.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Grayson

On a July evening in 2018, Boston cops spotted the defendant, who was riding a bicycle with another man who had an active arrest warrant.  When the cops approached the defendant, he attempted to flee.  He was riding his bike with one hand and holding onto his waistband with his other hand.  The officers suspected the defendant was holding onto a firearm.  After a short time, the defendant fell off his bike and began running through a Dorchester neighborhood.  He jumped over a fence and was discovered hiding in the backyard of a nearby home.  In the area where the defendant had run, the police found a semiautomatic pistol loaded with a magazine containing seven bullets.  The defendant was charged with several crimes, including carrying a  loaded firearm without a license.  A police firearms examiner determined the pistol was operable but testified at trial that there was no way to tell if the gun was loaded simply by looking at it.  To determine if there was ammunition in the pistol, someone would need to either pull the trigger or remove the magazine.  A Boston Municipal Court jury found the defendant guilty of carrying a loaded firearm and he appealed.

The Appeals Court first determined there was sufficient evidence to establish the defendant was carrying the weapon.  The defendant’s behavior (fleeing from the police and clutching an item near his waistband) coupled with the discovery of the gun nearby was sufficient for the jury to have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was carrying the gun.  The next question was whether the Commonwealth had proven the defendant knew the gun was loaded (which is an element of the crime).  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that in general, if the bullets are not visible when the magazine is inserted, the defendant’s knowledge of the gun being loaded cannot be inferred (unlike in cases involving revolvers, where the bullets in the cylinder are clearly visible).  However, the Appeals Court has tweaked that rule where there is additional evidence (it recently upheld a conviction where the defendant was holding a gun in his waistband, admitted he was familiar with firearms, was alone at night, and had threatened someone and referenced a gun shortly before his arrest).  In this case, the Appeals Court pointed out the only additional evidence (to the actual carrying of the gun) was that the defendant had the gun in his waistband, which supports a “commonsense inference” that he had checked to see if it was loaded.  However, the defendant was not alone during the night, he did not reference a gun while making threats, and there was no evidence he was familiar with firearms.  Accordingly, the defendant’s conviction for carrying a loaded firearm was unsupported by the trial evidence and the jury’s verdict was reversed.

While the defendant’s conviction for carrying a loaded firearm was reversed, his conviction for carrying a firearm was upheld (along with his two-year jail sentence).