Court: Carrying a gun in private yard not illegal

Police officers in Minnesota cannot detain someone on the front yard of a private residence solely on the report that he might have a gun, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today.

The court made its ruling in the 2010 case of Theng Yang, who was arrested outside a Frogtown home in Saint Paul, which police said was associated with gangs and drugs. A caller to 911 had reported “a man with red pajamas” had a gun and when the police arrived, they saw Yang, pulled their guns and ordered all the men in the yard to the ground.

That’s the point at which the police made an unlawful search and seizure, the Court of Appeals said today.

Yang, who could not lawfully possess a gun in Minnesota because of a felony conviction, was convicted of unlawful firearm possession and sentenced to five years in prison.

Yang argued, however, that while Minnesota law generally prohibits carrying a handgun without a permit on public property, a residential yard is not “a public place.”

The court refused to declare that any residential yard is “not a public place,” but Judge Kevin Ross wrote that police misinterpreted the law .

When the police arrived, Yang was “coming out the front porch into the front yard,” apparently nowhere near governmental property–a sidewalk or street, for example–and the state makes no claim of it. Although it turned out that Yang illegally possessed a firearm anyway because a previous conviction prohibited his possession, this is of no consequence to the stop because police had no reason to know that and because the state has attempted to justify the seizure instead only on the supposed suspected violation of the handgun statute.

Similarly, the officers’ awareness that drugs had been found and arrests had occurred previously at the home do not create reasonable suspicion to detain an occupant on a new report that he possesses a handgun.

Here’s the full opinion.