Thursday, July 5, 2012

Carrying a Concealed Weapon narrowly limited by Maine Supreme Court

Maine's Carrying a Concealed Wapon law, or at least it's application, has long been a thorn in the side of defense attorneys. The statute makes it illegal to: "Wear under the person’s clothes or conceal about the person’s person a firearm, slungshot [yeah, that is what it says in the law], knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person." The law specifically does not prohibit carrying "Knives used to hunt, fish or trap...". 

For years, this has been a great catch all offense giving a pretext for arrest in any case where a person is carrying a leatherman. District attorneys took the view that any item which could be used to injure a person and which could fit in a pocket or on a belt out of view as a "concealed weapon." But this is no longer a correct interpretation of the law. Really, it has never been a correct interpretation of he law but now the SJLC explicitly agrees. In the recent case of State v. Jones, the high court overturned the the conviction of a man found in possession of two ordinary, folding knives. They rejected the DA's stock, 'it would really hurt if you got cut with it' rational and reasoned that:


"Even though most knives, including the knives at issue here, are capable of causing serious bodily injury, the plain language of the statute establishes that the Legislature did not intend to prohibit the concealment of all knives. Rather, the statute expressly prohibits the concealment of only those knives that are specifically designed to be “usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person....whether a knife is a 'dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person'...requires a fact-specific inquiry to determine whether the knife is designed for use against human beings or whether its primary function is to attack or defend a person."

Maine Supreme Court overturned the conviction:

"The [trial] court, in its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, noted 'the size, the heft, and the sharp and serrated edges of the [blades]' and that 'these knives would easily do significant damage to human tissue, human organs and major arteries.' Such a description, however, could be given of any knife and renders Jones’s knives indistinguishable from those that the Legislature has expressly exempted from the prohibition against concealment. Thus, there is no factual basis in the record to support a conclusion that Jones’s knives fall within the class of knives that the Legislature has prohibited individuals from concealing."

So good job Law Court! This is really great. They don't like to vacate convictions and that is what they did here. Maybe this is the start of something special.