Knowing Unlicensed Possession of a Gun in Public Required for Punishment Under Minnesota Law

So holds yesterday’s State v. Ndikum (Minn. July 11, 2012). It’s a statutory construction case, akin to Staples v. United States (1994), and not a constitutional case. But because the decision whether to read a required mental state into a statute — here, the decision whether a ban on “possess[ing] a pistol … in a public place … without … a permit to carry” applies only to knowing possession — often turns on a judgment about whether the underlying conduct is the sort of unusual and especially dangerous activity that the legislature can be presumed to have criminalized on a strict liability basis, the opinion discusses the general role of guns in American life and in Minnesota law. An interesting and likely correct statutory result; I generally oppose strict liability in criminal cases, but it seems especially inapt here.

By the way, the defense theory was that “Ndikum’s wife testified at trial that she placed the gun in Ndikum’s briefcase before Ndikum left home to go to work. Ndikum testified that he did not know the gun was in his briefcase when he entered the Family Justice Center.” (Ndikum is a lawyer in private practice.) Transporting a gun from home to work without a license is indeed permitted under Minnesota law. And the jury seemed to have believe this: Ndikum was tried for both possessing a gun in public and possessing a dangerous weapon in a courthouse; the court instructed the jury “that an element of felony possession of a dangerous weapon in a courthouse is that ‘the defendant knew or reasonably should have known he possessed a dangerous weapon,’” and the jury acquitted on that charge. But the court didn’t instruct the jury that knowledge (or even negligence) was required for the possessing-in-public charge, and on that charge the jury convicted.