The case of the lawyer and the gun in his briefcase

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Cops, you know that the first thing a suspect says when something illegal has been found nearby is, “that’s not mine,” and “I don’t know how it got there.”

Sometimes it’s a good defense.

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court tossed out the conviction of a man for possessing a handgun in public, because the state didn’t prove that attorney Christian Chi Ndikum knew there was a pistol in the briefcase he was carrying into a courtroom.

Ndikum bought the gun in 2009 because of several incidents in his neighborhood and regularly carried it between his home and his Minneapolis office. But when he went through an X-ray scanner at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center for a court hearing, the gun was discovered. He admitted owning the gun, but said he didn’t know it was in his briefcase.

Ndikum’s wife testified she placed the gun in the briefcase., but he was convicted on a misdemeanor charge while found not guilty of a felony. The Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and today the Supreme Court affirmed that ruling.

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Helen Meyer, said the trial court should have instructed the jury that Ndikum needed to know the gun was in the briefcase.

In making the ruling, the Supreme Court clarified the state’s so-called “concealed carry” gun law:

Although section 624.714 prohibits persons without permits from carrying a pistol in public, the inverse is also true: a person granted a permit to carry a pistol may carry it in public freely. Furthermore, it is not difficult to obtain a permit to carry a pistol. There is a statutory presumption in favor of granting a permit as long as the applicant meets the minimal requirements for eligibility. Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 2. And even without a permit, gun owners may legally keep guns in their homes, transport guns to work, possess guns at work, hunt with guns, and keep guns in their vehicles. Our examination of section 624.714 leads us to conclude that the statute does not treat guns as highly dangerous devices and does not put gun owners on notice of stringent regulation. Section 624.714, subdivision 1a, is not a public welfare statute designed to strictly regulate a highly-dangerous device and, therefore, we conclude that mens rea (ed. note: “guilty mind,” basically, knowledge of a restriction or regulation) was not dispensed with by the Legislature.

Full opinion here.

  • Jim Shapiro

    While I’m not a gun guy ( I would end up using it on lowlifes that don’t use their turn indicators), this one is kind of a no brainer.

    Love that mens rea thing. I plead “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” to my spousal unit rather frequently, but I have yet to escape cruel and unusual punishment for even the most petty of crimes.

  • matt

    I love the brief moments of sanity in this world!

  • BJ

    @Jim – I hope the spousal unit doesn’t read newscut, You might have committed a ‘major’ petty crime 🙂