The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a man’s conviction for unlawfully carrying a firearm, concluding he did not satisfy the definition of a “new Massachusetts resident,” which would have provided him with a legal defense to the crime. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Paul.
A state trooper was dispatched to Route 93 near the New Hampshire border to investigate the report of a pedestrian walking on the highway. The trooper found the defendant walking between the guardrail and the tree line about six miles south of the New Hampshire border. The trooper told the defendant he wasn’t allowed to walk on the highway and the defendant said he was walking first to a gas station and then to meet a friend. The defendant, who was dirty and disheveled, also told the trooper he was homeless and was planning to travel to Michigan. The trooper asked the defendant if he was carrying any weapons and the defendant said he had a gun in his backpack. The trooper searched the backpack and found a loaded semiautomatic pistol. The defendant was also carrying his active New Hampshire license to carry a firearm, but did not have a license to carry in Massachusetts. The defendant was arrested and transported to the police barracks, where he claimed to work for “Homeland.” He was charged with carrying a firearm without a license.
At trial, the defendant argued he was not guilty because he qualified as a new resident of Massachusetts and therefore was entitled to a 60-day grace period to obtain a license to carry. The defendant was correct that there is a Massachusetts statute that exempts new residents from prosecution if they have been in the state for fewer than two months. The question, then, was whether the defendant qualified as a “new resident” of the Commonwealth. The trial judge concluded the defendant was not a Massachusetts resident and therefore could not rely on the new resident defense. A jury found the defendant guilty and he was sentenced to serve 18 months in jail. He appealed, arguing the trial judge had committed error by refusing to allow the jury to consider the new resident defense. The Appeals Court affirmed.
The Appeals Court determined that “residence” is a term that means presence in a particular location combined with an intention to remain there for some indefinite period of time. In this case, the defendant acknowledged his plan was to meet a friend and then continue his journey to Michigan. Accordingly, while he was physically present in Massachusetts (and it might be reasonable to infer he had spent the previous night in Massachusetts), the requirement that he was going to indefinitely remain in the Commonwealth was missing.
This case illustrates the harshness of the Massachusetts gun laws. The defendant had an active license to carry in New Hampshire, and he was only six miles away from the border when he was arrested. But it was six miles too far for the defendant, as his New Hampshire license was worthless in Massachusetts.