Today, the Superior Court, en banc, heard oral argument in the matter of Commonwealth v. Goslin, 1114 MDA 2015, where Mr. Goslin was previously convicted for merely possessing a lawful pocketknife on school property.
As many of our viewers are aware, I was previously successful in having the court vacate its prior decisions and order re-briefing and re-argument.
The en banc panel of the Superior Court was comprised of Judges Bender, Bowes, Panella, Lazarus, Ott, Stabile, Dubow, Moulton and Ramson.
As soon as I began my argument, the Judges began to pepper me with questions, including a very direct question by Judge Bowes of whether the prior (vacated) decision of the Superior Court violated the Second Amendment. As I had argued in our briefs, I responded that if the Court were to find, consistent with its prior decision, that an individual may only possess a weapon on school property relative to a school activity or course, it would violate the Second Amendment. I used this this opportunity to provide an example – I explained that my alma mater, The Hill School in Pottstown, PA, is a boarding school, where both the students and teachers live on campus. If the Court were to affirm its prior decision, teachers would be foreclosed in possessing firearms in their homes, which the U.S. Supreme Court found was at the “core” of the Second Amendment in Heller and would therefore result in the law being unconstitutional. Judge Bowes nodded her head in agreement.
At that point, Judge Moulton inquired whether the school in this matter was not one where teachers lived on campus. After confirming that such was my understanding, he then stated then that isn’t applicable to the case before us. At that point, I respectfully responded that it is to the extent the Court resorts to statutory construction, as one of the criteria to be considered is the unintended consequences of a particular interpretation. At that point, Judge Moulton stated that there were numerous unintended consequences of the prior ruling, as pointed out in our briefs.
Judge Bowes asked me to then explain our position on the defense found in Section 912(c) providing for two separate and distinct circumstances. I explained that in relation to the first, where the weapon is possessed in relation to a school activity or course, the General Assembly permitted both “possession” and “use”; whereas, in the second, where a weapon is possessed for “other lawful purposes,” I explained that the General Assembly only permitted possession. I then went on to explain that although “use” would generally be prohibited in relation to the “other lawful purpose” clause, an individual could still use the weapon, if such was necessitated, under the statutory provisions for justification or self defense. Judges Lazarus, Bowes, Bender, Stabile and Dubow all seemed to be nodding their heads in agreement. I further explained that the laws of the Commonwealth define that which is unlawful; not that which is lawful. As the Superior Court has previously held that a pocket knife not only has a lawful purpose, but a “common lawful purpose”, Mr. Goslin’s conduct clearly meets the criteria of possession for an “other lawful purpose.”
Judge Lazarus then asked me (based on an argument in our brief) if an officer, who was attending a parent teacher conference, possessed a firearm during that time, whether he would have violated the statute. I responded that he would not, assuming the Court were to agree with our interpretation, as the officer would have no unlawful purpose; however, if the Court were to affirm its prior decision, then the officer’s possession of a firearm would not be necessitated by his reason for being on school grounds and he would be in violation of the statute. Judge Lazarus and several others nodded their heads in agreement.
At that point, Judge Moulton asked me to address the vagueness issue and whether that would preclude a criminal conviction, as we had additionally argued in the alternative. I explained that although we believe the statute was not vague, if learned jurists of the Superior Court could not agree on what constituted a lawful purpose, then the statute must be found to be too vague to support a criminal conviction, as no lay person could possibly know whether or not his/her conduct was lawful. All the judges seemed to agree with that proposition.
As I had reserved 5 minutes of rebuttal time, my time was up (in actuality, after the buzzer went off for my initial 10 mins, the Judges continued to ask question for at least another 3-4 mins). At this point the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) tried to start his opening remarks and got hammered with questions. The Court was somewhat rentless in questioning why the DA would bring charges in this, of all, situations, especially where they were arguing that the statute was vague. In this vein, the Court asked why the DA would not use prosecutorial discretion not to charge, instead of moving forward with charging where they acknowledge the statute is vague. Judge Lazarus asked why would they bring this specific charge in this context, to which the ADA responded that they had also previously filed charges for Terroristic Threats. Judge Lazarus almost fell out of her chair at the ADA’s statement and she even clarified that “You’re telling us, that because he took a pocketknife out of his pocket and placed it on the table, during a conference at school, that such constituted a terroristic threat?” When the ADA confirmed such, I truly believe based on Judge Lazarus’ facial expressions that she thought she was living in the twilight zone.
At this point, Judge Lazarus posed the question to the ADA that she posed to me. The ADA conceded that if this Court’s prior holding was affirmed (as they were arguing for), then the officer would have violated the statute. Judge Lazarus immediately asked if he would prosecute the officer. Although the ADA may have responded, I never heard an actual response and it was quite clear that Judge Lazarus was incensed by the DA’s position in this matter. Judge Stabile followed up by asking (based on an argument in our brief) whether a student, who possessed a baseball bat on school property for use after school in a non-school related activity was in violation. The ADA conceded that under their interpretation, such would be a violation. Judge Stabile shook his head seemingly in amazement at the DA’s position.
Before long, the ADA’s time was up and I think he was relieved to be done; but, I still had 5 minutes reserved for rebuttal.
First, I used the opportunity to respond to the ADA’s comment that the purpose this statute was enacted was to protect students from violence. I explained that we have laws on the book precluding murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, aggravated and simple assault, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person, including the inchoate crimes of attempt, solicitation and conspiracy, most of which have far harsher grading than Section 912 and which have not stopped criminals from committing crimes in schools or in society at large. Several judges nodded in agreement.
I also used that time to draw to the Court’s attention another statute, Section 908 – Prohibited Offensive Weapons, where we see similar language utilized. There, it talks about weapons that have no “common lawful purpose.” I explained that this shows that the General Assembly, where it believes appropriate, knows how to even limit lawful purposes to those that are “common” but that the General Assembly in Section 912 permitted all lawful purposes, regardless of how common or uncommon they are. At that point, my time was up and I respectfully requested that the Court reverse the trial court, enter a finding of not guilty and hold that an individual may possess a weapon on school grounds, provided that it is not utilized for unlawful purposes.
As our readers are aware, unfortunately, Mr. Goslin is not in a position to fund this litigation. Therefore, if you are in a position to be able to help fund this matter, 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.
We will keep our viewers apprised of the Superior Court’s ultimate decision in this matter