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January 20, 2019

Gun Thread: Innocent or Guilty - Conclusion [Weasel]


In last week's episode, we discussed jury duty and a trial involving firearms. For those interested in a review, last week's thread be found HERE. (do not comment in old threads!). To recap the case briefly; responding to a disturbance call, police find a felon in possession of two muzzleloading rifles which they inorrectly assume is allowable. The rifles were later surrendered to the Commonwealth Attorney's office by the defendant, with the barrels plugged, ostensibly rendering them unusable. During a subsequent search of the defendant's apartment and associated storage space, a functional revolver and ammunition are recovered. The defense caims the rifles were not technically firearms since the barrels were plugged and denied knowledge of the revolver.

Last week we paused after the jury took the first vote...

...which was 8 to 4, for acquittal. I will tell you now I was one of the four votes for a guilty verdict.

Here's my thinking:
I didn't really believe the rifles were plugged at the time of the original call because it didn't make sense to me for the defendant to keep "permanently" plugged modern rifles absent any collector or stated sentimental value. If they were not permanenetly rendered inoperable, and I did not believe they were, then the defense assertion they were no longer firearms was invalid. The defense case with respect to the rifles in general was weak and unconvincing, and while I suspected the rifles were plugged after the fact, the police had bungled that part of the case so thoroughly I decided to disregard the issue of the rifles altogether and focus on the handgun. Had there been onvincing testimony the barrels were not obstructed when first found, my decision would have been different.

The prosecution seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion in their decision to focus on the handgun. As demonstrated by photographic evidence and testimony, the manner in which the revolver was found did not in any way support the theory that it had been slipped through the space above the door and dropped, or otherwise planted, into the box where it was found. The physical arrangement of items in the storage cage made that explanation highly improbable, if not altogether impossible. The defense did not make the assertion that any specific person (e.g. a jealous girlfriend) had planted the gun, only that it could have been dropped inside by a passerby. The gun was found with other items clearly identifying and belonging to the defendant. The storage space was under the custody of the defendant which I agreed represented constructive possession of the items inside. At the end of the day the gun was in a box full of the defendant's stuff in a space controlled by him.

So we discussed these elements for a while and took another vote, and this time it was about evenly split. Back and forth some more and after a few hours it's finally 11 to 1 for a verdict of guilty. The holdout seemed steadfast but could not support or provide any logical reason for their position which, as stated, was simply not wanting to send anyone to jail. It took some time to disuade them of this opinion, mostly because I believe they were enjoying the attention, but finally it's unanimous. Guilty as charged.

Once the verdict was read in court, the trial went directly into the penalty phase. The jury is informed the sentencing guidelines dictate between 2 to 5 years in prison. No more, no less. The jury also now learns the nature of the previous felony; aggravated assault, which had been committed by the defendant in another state a few years earlier, and for which he served his time. The decision regarding a sentence comes quickly; 2 years. The consensus of the jury in choosing the minimum sentence was the fact the possession did not occur during the commission of a violent act.


Concluding Thoughts
Last week, based on the case summary provided, you all made what I thought were compelling arguments both for and against conviction, and many of the same arguments were made in the jury room. Some of of you based your opinion on the prosecution proving (or not proving) the defendant's legal ownership of the revolver, while others seemed to base their opinion on whether it was right to deny 2nd Amendment rights to a felon who has served their time. For those in this first example, keep in mind, the charge was possession rather than ownership. For those in the second example, it may be useful to think of two concepts in law; Malum Prohibitum - wrong because it's prohibited by law but not inherently immoral (speeding, commenting in old threads), and Malum in Se - wrong because it's immoral (murder, carrots in chili, voting for liberals). I think the actions of the defendant are an excellent example of malum prohibitum.

As I heard the case I suspected the defendant's previous felony was serious, otherwise the nature of the crime would not have been suppressed. However, I did my best to focus solely on the facts at hand as I saw them; Felon + Gun = Crime. I was forced to think quite a bit about whether I wanted to convict or not based on some of the same reasoning advanced in the comments last week. In the end I realized my quandary had more to do with the question of whether I thought the law was right, rather than whether I thought a law had been broken. I had not been asked if I agreed with anything, only whether I thought, beyond a reasonable doubt, a law had been broken. Since I believed the facts and circumstances proved constructive possession, to return anything other than a guilty verdict would have meant, in my opinion, inserting myself into the legislative process.

When I said I thought I'd been selected as a juror based on my stated 2nd Amendment views during voir dire, I think the defense was hoping I'd act emotionally and vote not guilty because of the percieved infringement of the defendant's 2nd Amendment rights. Does this mean I personally adhere to each and every law simply because it exists? No. Would I blindly adhere to a law I found so objectionable I was otherwise unwilling to obey? I'll leave that to your imagination. Suffice it to say I would make that decision accepting the risk of punishment for my actions, and hoping they would be judged dispassionately.

Sending someone to prison is not an easy thing to do. How would you decide the case, and if guilty, what length of a sentence would you impose?


Only one link this week. Since we've been discussing the law and firearms, I recommend this excellent presentation by fellow Moron and Legal Hombre Andrew Branca on his highly acclaimed website and blog, The Law of Self Defense. Mr. B is offering a great review of, well, the law of self defense, and this presentation is FREE though tonight. (h/t CBD)

***Mail Bag***

This week's Mailbag entry comes to us from Hank Curmudgeon Thanks HC!!




The magic number of attendees for NoVaMoMe 2019 has been reached and even exceeded a little. No worries if you have registered and received a confirmation email - you're all set! If you haven't registered and are still interested in attending, we will be happy to place your name on the waitlist should a space open up, just send us an email. If you have registered and your plans change, please let us know so we may offer the space to others. A big thanks to all those who have registered and we look forward to seeing you on February 9th!


Please note the new and improved email account morongunthread at gmail dot com. If you have a question you would like to ask Gun Thread Staff offline, just send us a note and we'll do our best to answer. If you care to share the story of your favorite firearm, send a picture with your nic and tell us what you sadly lost in the tragic canoe accident. If you would like to remain completely anonymous, just say so. Lurkers are always welcome!

That's it for this week - have you been to the range?

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