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Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules a Non-Motorized Camper Attached to a Truck Constitutes a “Vehicle”

The Massachusetts Appeals Court delivered an opinion today concluding that a non-motorized camper qualified as a “vehicle” when it was attached to the defendant’s pickup truck.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Davenport.

An Avon police detective was involved in an investigation into the defendant in January of 2018.  The detective learned the defendant’s pickup truck was parked in a Walmart parking lot.  The detective drove to Walmart and found the defendant’s truck.  Attached to the truck with ropes and bungee cords was a camper, powered by a generator.  The camper had a place to sleep and a kitchen, bot no driving cab.  Access to the camper was possible only through a back door.  Believing the defendant was inside the camper, the detective knocked repeatedly and yelled for the defendant to come outside.  When the defendant finally followed the detective’s commands to exit (after nearly half an hour), he was arrested.  The cops secured and towed the pickup truck and the camper to the police station.  They later obtained a warrant to search the camper and during the search they found an illegal spring-loaded knife in the sleeping area.  DNA analysis established the defendant had handled the knife.  The defendant was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon by having the knife under his control in a vehicle.  He waived his right to a jury trial and instead had a trial before just a judge.  The judge found him guilty and he appealed.

The central issue on appeal was whether the defendant’s camper qualifies as a vehicle, which is an element of the crime.  The statute does not provide a definition for “vehicle,” so the Appeals Court considered its ordinary meaning.  Several dictionaries cited by the Court noted that a vehicle is some sort of device (like a sled or a car) that is commonly used to transport goods or people.  Because the defendant’s camper was used to transport the defendant and his belongings, it is at least part of a vehicle.  The defendant argued that the camper could not be considered a vehicle because it did not have a driving cab.  However, the Court pointed out that the statute did not use the term “motor vehicle.”  A motor vehicle is a vehicle that uses some sort of power (other than muscular power) to propel itself.  A (non-motor) vehicle does not have the requirement of self-propulsion.  The Court analogized the defendant’s camper to a train car.  Under the defendant’s proposed definition, only the locomotive car – and none of the passenger cars – would qualify as a vehicle.  The Court rejected this definition.  The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that his camper could not be a vehicle because he used it as his residence.  As long as the defendant also used the camper as a means of transport, it qualified as a vehicle.

Having concluded the camper satisfied the statutory language of being a vehicle, the Court quickly ruled that the Commonwealth had proven the defendant had control of the knife.  After all, the knife was found in the area of the camper where the defendant slept and the defendant’s DNA was found on the knife’s handle.  For all these reasons, the defendant was properly convicted of possessing an illegal knife in his vehicle and his conviction was affirmed.

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