In State v. Christian Ndikum, published August 15, 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the State must prove that a Defendant knew he was in possession of a handgun in order to be guilty of possessing a handgun without a permit.
Defendant, Ndikum, appealed a jury conviction of gross misdemeanor possession of a handgun without a permit. The challenge to the conviction arose out of Defendant’s argument that the court erred in not granting his request for a modification of the jury instruction for possessing a handgun without a permit to include that a person must know that he or she is in possession of a handgun to be found guilty of the offense. The Court of Appeals agreed that the district court erred and should have included knowledge of possession as part of the jury instructions. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case back to district court for a new trial.
Defendant, who is an attorney, appeared for a settlement conference at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center and was arrested after it was discovered he had a loaded handgun in his briefcase. Defendant admittedly owned the handgun and carried it for protection to and from his home to his office address on Lake Street. Defendant does not have a permit to carry the handgun, and it is illegal to bring a loaded weapon into a district courthouse. Defendant asserted that he did not know he had the handgun with him that day. His wife testified at the trial that she had seen it in their living room and had put it in his briefcase, as that was where he typically kept it, without his knowledge.
The statute for possessing a handgun without a permit is not clear as to whether the person possessing the gun must know they are in possession, and the legislative intent is unclear as to whether the crime of possessing a handgun without a permit is a strict liability crime, meaning it is a crime whether the person knows or doesn’t know. Therefore, the Court of Appeals determined that the jury should have received an instruction that Defendant knew he was in possession of a handgun without a permit to carry, and Defendant is entitled to a new trial with such an instruction.