United States Supreme Court Reverses Conviction in Massachusetts Stun Gun Possession Case – Caetano v. Massachusetts

Many discussions between a person who has been criminally accused and his or her defense attorney begin with the assertion, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Perhaps never was this statement more true than in a recent case handed down by the United States Supreme Court.

In the case of Caetano v. Massachusetts, the defendant was identified by a store manager as a potential accomplice when police officers responded to an alleged shoplifting at a supermarket in Ashland, Massachusetts in 2011. The officers obtained consent to search the defendant’s purse, but they found no evidence of shoplifting. They did, however, find a stun gun and proceeded to arrest the defendant for violation of Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140, §131J, which prohibits possession of an electrical weapon.

According to the defendant, she kept the “stun gun” as a means of self-defense against an abusive ex-boyfriend, against whom she had obtained multiple restraining orders after he had beaten her so severely that she required hospitalization.

Proceedings in the Massachusetts Courts

The defendant moved to dismiss the charges against her on Second Amendment grounds, but the trial court denied her motion and convicted her as charged. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction, holding that a stun gun is not the type of weapon that is eligible for constitutional protection because such guns were not in common use at the time the Second Amendment was enacted and are “dangerous and unusual.”

The Decision of the Nation’s Highest Court

On further appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the defendant’s conviction was reversed. According to the Court, the Massachusetts state courts had erred in focusing the inquiry on whether the weapon in question was “in common use” when the Second Amendment was enacted. In so holding, the court noted that it had found the argument that only arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment “not merely wrong, but bordering on the frivolous” in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller.

The court went on to find that a stun gun was not “unusual,” as the lower court had held. Instead, the Court opined that stun guns are suited for both militia and military use, such as in the case of law enforcement officers carrying Tasers for nonlethal crowd control or soldiers using a stun gun to incapacitate a target without permanent injury. The court observed that hundreds of thousands of Tasers and stun guns have been sold to private citizens, and 45 states allow citizens to lawfully possess such weapons. Because stun guns are “widely owned,” and because they are “accepted as a legitimate means of self-defense across the country,” the Second Amendment prohibits Massachusetts’ categorical ban of such weapons.

Speak with a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Case

If you are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, felony charges, or an accusation of operating under the influence (OUI), your freedom, your finances, and your future are all at risk. To schedule an appointment with an experienced and assertive Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at (888) 262-6664. We can assist you with the investigation, preparation, negotiation, and trial of any criminal charge that you may be facing. We serve all of the Cape Cod area, including Hyannis and Plymouth, as well as other areas of Massachusetts.

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United States Supreme Court Rejects “Reasonable Person” Standard for Determining Criminal Responsibility for Threatening Another – Elonis v. United States

Police Need Warrant to Search Arrestee’s Cell Phone in Most Cases – Riley v. California

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