Tag Archives: weapon

The Goslin Decision’s Impact on Possessing Weapons on School Property

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Chief Counsel Prince Secures MONUMENTAL Decision from the Superior Court, en banc, regarding Possession of Weapons on School Property

Today, the Superior Court, en banc, issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin, 1114 MDA 2015, regarding whether an individual is entitled to claim the defense of “other lawful purpose” when carrying a weapon on school grounds.

As our viewers are aware, after the original devastating decision was issued by the Superior Court holding that one could not possess a weapon on school grounds, unless it was related to a school activity, Chief Counsel Joshua Prince contacted Mr. Goslin and offered to represent him in petitioning the Superior Court to reconsider his case, en banc, and permit re-briefing and oral argument. After filing the motion for reconsideration, the Superior Court vacated its prior decision, granted reconsideration, en banc, and permitted the parties to re-brief the matter and to argue the matter at oral argument. Thereafter, Chief Counsel Prince re-briefed the matter and attended oral argument.

Today, the Superior Court, en banc, without any dissenting opinions, filed its decision vacating the trial court’s finding of guilt and declaring:

We disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that the language of Section 912(c) is vague.
Rather, we conclude that, in order to ascertain the meaning of Section 912(c), we need not look beyond its plain language. 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, as Chief Counsel Prince specifically argued this exact construction and noted the different verbs utilized related to the different provisions)

Consistent therewith, the court declared that:

for purposes of the instant case, the plain meaning of the phrase “other lawful purpose” is an aim or goal different from, or in addition to, an aim or goal described in the first clause of Section 912(c), i.e., in conjunction with “a lawful supervised school activity or course.” The second clause of this subsection, thus, serves as a catchall provision.

Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, the “other lawful purpose” language does not restrict the defense provided in Section 912(c). Instead, the phrase does just the opposite: it expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of Section 912(c), regardless of whether it is school-related. (emphasis added, as Chief Counsel Prince additionally argued this construction of the statute).

The Superior Court also included a footnote declaring:

Although we are concerned about individuals possessing weapons on school property, we are bound by the broad defense that the legislature has provided defendants in such cases.

As our readers are aware, unfortunately,  Mr. Goslin was not in a position to fund this litigation and his costs will continue to accrue, as the case is now remanded back to the trial court. 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.

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Major Pennsylvania Firearm Cases of 2016

As the year is coming to a close, I thought it important to document some of the monumental court decisions that Firearms Industry Consulting Group® (FICG®), a division of Prince Law Offices, P.C., obtained in 2016, as well as, some other cases of importance.

We were successful in a monumental case of first impression in obtaining a decision from the Commonwealth Court holding that all license to carry firearms applicant information is confidential and not subject to disclosure. The court held that disclosure through an un-enveloped postcard was a public disclosure.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Childs re-affirmed that the Castle Doctrine is an inalienable/inherent right.

There was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota that held that a state may not imposed additional criminal sanctions or penalties on someone refusing a breathalyzer or blood draw. Although we were not involved in the Birchfield decision, as a result of the decision, we were able to get numerous individual relief from previously prohibiting convictions and plea deals.

In another case of first impression, we were successful in a Second Amendment as-applied challenge in relation to a mental health commitment. The District Court even declared:

Indeed, Mr. Yox provides the perfect test case to challenge § 922(g)(4), as the illogical contradiction of being able to possess firearms in his professional capacities but not being able to possess a firearm for protection in his own home puts in relief a factual scenario where an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to this statute may succeed.

Indeed, if Mr. Yox were not to succeed on his as-applied challenge, we cannot imagine that there exists any person who could.

In a monumental order, the Superior Court vacated its decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin and ordered re-briefing and argument on whether Mr. Goslin, who merely possessed a lawful pocket knife on school grounds, was entitled to the defense of his possession constituting an “other lawful purpose.” This was after the Superior Court had issued a devastating opinion holding that one could only possess a weapon on school grounds if it related to and was necessitated by the reason the individual was on school grounds. We now await the court’s decision.

The most recent decision was in relation to Lower Merion Township’s illegal firearm ordinances, which precluded individuals from possessing and utilizing firearms in their parks, in direct contravention of Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and our state preemption, found in 18 Pa.C.S. 6120. The Commonwealth Court found that Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC) was entitled to an injunction.

These are but a few of the extremely important, pro-Second Amendment, decisions that were rendered this year in Pennsylvania.

If your rights have been violated, contact us today to discuss your options! Together, we can ensure that YOUR constitutional rights aren’t infringed!

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Oral Argument in Commonwealth v. Goslin – Possession of a Weapon on School Grounds

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 relentless 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

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MONUMENTAL Decision from the Superior Court Vacating Its Prior Decision Regarding Weapons on School Property!

As our viewers are aware, I previously wrote about the devastating decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin from the Superior Court in relation to carrying a weapon on school property and the “other lawful purpose” defense.

After the decision, Mr. Goslin contacted me and we, pro-bono, filed a Motion for Reconsideration/Reargument en banc, wherein, inter alia, we argued that the Superior Court should permit new briefs to be filed and oral argument, after vacating the court’s July 6, 2016 decision. Today, the Superior Court GRANTED the motion, withdrew the July 6, 2016 decisions and scheduled re-briefing and argument.

Accordingly, the Superior Court’s July 6, 2016 decision is no longer valid and we will have an opportunity to re-argue the matter. Unfortunately, the court only provided several weeks to submit briefs and Mr. Goslin is not in a position to fund the briefing and argument. 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

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Can You Bring Your Sword Into a School Administration Building? The Superior Court Says No…

Recently, in Commonwealth v. Giordano, 2015 PA Super 167, the Pennsylvania Superior Court published an opinion by Judge Wecht (who is currently running for PA Supreme Court) holding that although a school administration building was not defined in the statute as part of an “elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution” and no case law existed as to whether an administration building could constitute an “elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution,” Mr. Giordano could be convicted for violating Section 912 by bringing a sword into an administration building.

Section 912 provides

(a)  Definition.  Notwithstanding the definition of “weapon” in section 907 (relating to possessing instruments of crime), “weapon” for purposes of this section shall include but not be limited to any knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nun- chuck stick, firearm, shotgun, rifle and any other tool, instrument or implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.

(b)  Offense defined.  A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses a weapon in the buildings of, on the grounds of, or in any conveyance providing transportation to or from any elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution, any elementary or secondary private school licensed by the Department of Education or any elementary or secondary parochial school.

(c)  Defense.  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.

As stated in the opinion, “Giordano asserts that the Commonwealth proved only that he carried a weapon into the administration building, which is neither an elementary nor a secondary educational institution.” The court acknowledged that “[w]e have found no precedent that defines “elementary or secondary publicly-funded education institution for purposes of the statute” and that “[t]herefore, we must construe those terms using our interpretive canons. After reviewing several dictionary definitions of “education institution” and secondary school, the court declares

Here, the administration building does not provide the first four to eight years of a child’s formal education nor does it off a general, technical, vocational, or college-preparatory curricula. However, we must also consider that the General Assembly does not intend an absurd result.

Hold on, the court acknowledges that it doesn’t fit any of the dictionary definitions, so to accomplish the court’s desired result, they declare that because “homebound instruction is provided in the building,” it constitutes an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution? This sure sounds like judicial activism to me, especially when the court is determining whether there was sufficient evidence to convict Mr. Giordano of a misdemeanor of the 1st degree.

Mr. Giordano also argues that Section 912 is not a strict liability crime and therefore, consistent with prior holdings of the Commonwealth Court, requires that the Commonwealth prove that he had the mens rea to commit a crime. The court agreed with Mr. Giordano that the Commonwealth had to establish that he acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly. However, the court, once again seemingly motivated by its own desired ends, found that since Mr. Giordano knew that a weapon could not be brought into a school building, the mens rea was established. While there is no dispute that Mr. Giordano knew he could not bring his sword into a school building, the court seems completely oblivious to the first several pages of its opinion, where it acknowledged that the statute did not specify that an administration building was part of an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution and that no case law existed to place Mr. Giordano on notice that an administration building may constitute an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution. If a statute is so vague as it does not place an individual on notice that his/her conduct may be prohibited, then the statute is unconstitutional for violating due process and the individual cannot be charged for violating it. Commonwealth v. Baxter, 2008 PA Super 200, 956 A.2d 465, 468-469 (Pa. Super. 2008) (en banc).

Additionally, there is no mention of whether Mr. Giordano argued that the defense found in subsection (c) applied. As there is an exception for other lawful purpose and nothing in the opinion establishes that he had an unlawful purpose, it would seem that subsection (c) would have applied.

It is truly disheartening when our courts permit the ends to justify the means. While it may not have been wise of Mr. Giordano to carry a sword into the administration building, such does not make it unlawful.

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