As our viewers are aware, earlier, we posted about the Superior Court’s monumental decision in Commonwealth v Goslin, where the court, en banc, held that the “plain meaning of Section 912(c) provides two separate defenses: possessing and using a weapon on school property ‘in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity’ as well as possessing ‘for other lawful purpose’.” (emphasis added)
But what does this mean? What is the impact? And why did the court remand the case to the trial court for a new trial?
First, it is extremely important to note that although this is an extremely favorable decision, the law provides that either of the separate two defenses are just that – defenses. Specifically, Section 912(c) provides:
It shall be a defense that the weapon is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.
This means that the Commonwealth can charge you and force you to raise Section 912(c) as a defense and be acquitted by way of the defense, if you are legally entitled to the defense.
But what does that mean? Well, everyone wants bright line rules but unfortunately, in most cases, there aren’t bright line rules, when you wade into the minutiae of scenarios that can arise. So, let’s talk about what are the bright line rules from this decision:
- If you are prohibited from possessing a certain type of weapon (such as firearms or stun guns), you cannot utilize this defense, as you would not be in lawful possession of the weapon and therefore would not have a lawful purpose.
- If one is required to have special licensing to possess the weapon (such as a license to carry firearms (“LTCF”)) and you do not have an LTCF, you cannot utilize this defense, as you would not be in lawful possession of the weapon and therefore would not have a lawful purpose.
- If you intend to commit or actually do use your firearm to commit a crime on school grounds, you cannot utilize this defense, as you would have an unlawful purpose.
But, what if I am not prohibited from possessing a certain type of weapon, have the requisite licensing (if any) to possess the weapon and am carrying the weapon for purposes of self-defense, can I possess the weapon on school grounds?
Based on this decision (and other arguments under the PA and US Constitutions), you would be entitled to the defense found in Section 912(c); however, as mentioned above, nothing would prevent the District Attorney from charging you and forcing you to prove your defense. Now, that being said, few law enforcement officers are going to want to charge someone in this situation, because if they do, and the charges are dismissed or you are acquitted, you can bring a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against them for violating your rights.
Ok, but what if I need to utilize the weapon I am carrying on school grounds, let’s say for purpose of self-defense?
Here, while there are great arguments – arguments that we raised in our briefing – the decision does not address whether someone possessing a weapon for “other lawful purposes” may use it. In fact, a significant portion of my argument was that the General Assembly utilized different verbs for the different clauses. Specifically, you will see that the General Assembly permitted both use and possession in relation to a “lawful supervised school activity or course” (due to school shooting teams, Boy Scouts…etc, which actively possess and use weapons on school grounds) but only specified possession in relation to “other lawful purpose.” Moreover, as Mr. Goslin was not required to use the pocketknife that he lawfully possessed, this was not an issue before the court. That being said, if an individual, who possessed the weapon for purposes of self-defense, later used that weapon on school grounds for purposes of self-defense, there are great constitutional and statutory arguments that one can make to permit the use of the weapon in that limited circumstance.
Accordingly, the key points are that anyone lawfully possessing a weapon on school grounds ensure that they are possessing it for a lawful purpose (e.g. self-defense) and they understand that they can be charged with violating Section 912 and forced to argue the defense under Section 912(c).
So why did the Superior Court remand this case to the trial court?
Well, although the record establishes that Mr. Goslin lawfully possessed his knife, the trial court never addressed whether he lawfully possessed his knife, as it held that he wasn’t entitled to the defense since his possession of the knife was not related to a school activity. It is for that reason that the Superior Court remanded it back to the trial for a new trial. However, since posting our article on the decision, the District Attorney reached out to me and advised that they do not plan to appeal and intend to nolle prosequi (in essence, dismiss) the charges against Mr. Goslin. Accordingly, Mr. Goslin will not have go through another trial or file additional motions.
As our readers are aware, unfortunately, Mr. Goslin was not in a position to fund this litigation. Therefore, if you are in a position to be able to help fund this monumental victory, Mr. Goslin would greatly appreciate donations which can be made online through our Firm’s escrow account here – https://secure.lawpay.com/pages/princelaw/trust. Simply place Goslin Appeal in the Matter No/Client Name box.
If you or someone you know has been charged with possessing a weapon on school grounds, contact us today to discuss YOUR rights.