MN Court: Law against carrying gun while drunk doesn’t extend to car console

It is illegal in Minnesota to carry a gun when drunk. The center console of your car? That’s OK, according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The court today upheld a district court judge’s decision to dismiss a charge against Christopher Prigge, who was stopped by a Maple Grove police officer for suspected driving under the influence in April 2016. A later search of the car discovered the gun in the console, and, thus, the additional charges under state law, which says:

624.7142 CARRYING WHILE UNDER INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE.
Subdivision 1.Acts prohibited. A person may not carry a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person in a public place:
(1) when the person is under the influence of a controlled substance, as defined in section 152.01, subdivision 4;
(2) when the person is under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements named in clauses (1) and (4);
(3) when the person is knowingly under the influence of any chemical compound or combination of chemical compounds that is listed as a hazardous substance in rules adopted under section 182.655 and that affects the nervous system, brain, or muscles of the person so as to impair the person’s clearness of intellect or physical control;
(4) when the person is under the influence of alcohol;
(5) when the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.10 or more; or
(6) when the person’s alcohol concentration is less than 0.10, but more than 0.04.

The judge dismissed the charge because Prigge was not carrying the pistol “on or about his clothes or his person.”

Today, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals agreed.

As is often the case when trying to determine what the Minnesota Legislature meant, the judges turned to the dictionary.

“‘Carry’ is defined as ‘[t]o hold or support while moving; bear,’or ‘[t]o hold or be capable of holding,'” Judge Michelle Larkin wrote in her decision.

She said the law refers to “only carrying a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person, and does not include carrying, holding, or possessing a pistol in a vehicle.”

What happens if someone’s clothing is actually touching the gun in the center console?

“While our decision is limited to the facts of this case, we presume that the legislature does not intend absurd or unreasonable results,” she said.

  • Leroy

    I’m more perplexed why categories 5 and 6 both exist. Why not just update 5 to be more than .04?

    • jon

      I was hoping it was because there was a sweet spot right at 0.10 where you could carry a firearm… but alas that is not how it is written.

    • Gary F

      Because when the law was written, .1 was the standard for DUI. Now the DUI limit is .08.

    • Evan

      Its for sentencing purposes. A first time violation of clause 5 is a misdemeanor and any subsequent violation is a gross misdemeanor while any violation of clause 6 is only a misdemeanor. Also a violation of clause 5 revokes your carry permit while your permit would only be suspended for 6 months for a violation of clause 6.

      • Laurie K.

        This is not for sentencing purposes, it is an element of the charge.

        • Evan

          Technically that is true; however, Leroy’s question was why is there a .04 to .1 clause and a separate .1 clause and the answer is because of a difference in sentencing between the clauses. The State has to prove what the BAC is (for cases involving clauses 5 and 6), but what the BAC is determines the sentencing for the crime.

  • Barton

    so literal….

    • Zachary Mott

      Yep! If the legislature feels that their intent was misinterpreted, they will amend the language of the law. Hooray for separation of powers!

  • Starlight109

    A person who has a few too many has to have an off-body place to secure his firearm. The law provides that. The statute worked exactly as designed and written.

    • Secure the firearm from what?

      • ConnorD

        Secure in gunnie parlance meaning to store or stow…

        It’s not that hard Bob.

        What’s he gonna do, leave his gun on the side of the street? Or walk into a police station with it in his hands and ask them to hold it for him while he sobers up?

        • Right, I get that. What I don’t get is how a guy lying (laying?) on or in the center console of a car is considered secure for the purposes of keeping a drunk person from doing something stupid?

          The mention was made that the statute was enforced as written (obviously, that’s the decision) and intent. That’s my question: Did the Legislature intend to create a safety component w.r.t. guns and people who are drunk? If so, how does the scenario described in the court case do that?

          • Laurie K.

            Clearly they did, otherwise they would have added the language they did in Minn. Stat. 624.714 and prohibited not only possession on or about the person’s clothes or the person and would have included the phrase “otherwise in possession or control”. This is also the reason I find your post to be somewhat inaccurate. The COA did not say it was OK to have a gun in your car console while under the influence, the legislatures did.

          • The Legislature never addressed the issue of a car console, of course. The Court of Appeals had to determine whether the scenario fit what they think the legislature’s intent was. Fine. I’m cool with that.

            But the whole thing strikes me as a bit of a security show to create the illusion of some safeguard against some unstated hazard.

            For example, the Legislature clearly doesn’t believe someone who’s drunk should have a gun touching their clothing or person. Presumably, there’s a safety reason for that.

            Makes sense. But at the same time, the Legislature appeared to say, based on this decision, that having a gun within arm’s reach is OK.

            I doubt there’s a significant safety difference between the two scenarios, which is why it would make sense to me to simply strike the entire provision. It seems to be little more than show.

          • Laurie K.

            Although I agree in principle with your argument, it is not up to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to change what a statute says even if it appears that the legislature inadvertently omitted language. Their job is to interpret the statutes as written, not re-write or “clarify” them. As Judge Reilly stated in the opinion “[a]rguments urging the expansion of section 624.714 are more properly directed to the legislature”. We all have a voice and an elected official who represents us.

          • Right, I get that. I’m not even talking, really, about today’s decision. That’s done. I’m back looking at legislative intent w.r.t. practicality of the law in the first place.

          • Laurie K.

            Well, you got me there. I deal with legislative intent on basically a daily basis and I have no idea most days how some of their statutes fit into the practicality of the law.

  • Ralphy

    Does this mean that if the gun is not on one’s person, as in this case, then one is not technicaly carrying?
    If so, how does that affect those charged with unlawfully carrying (I’m thinking those without a permit or under a court order) when the gun was found in the car, but not on their person?

    When I served on a federal court grand jury, this was the standard charge for paroled drug dealers. They would get pulled over and the car searched. Often the only charge we heard was there was a gun somewhere in the car.

    • Laurie K.

      I am guessing that the case you were a part of involved a different statute which prohibits transporting or possession of a firearm by persons convicted of certain crimes, including felonies (Minn. Stat. 624.713). Also, if you read the decision, they discuss the particular statute that applies to persons carrying without a permit – the language in that particular statute (Minn. Stat. 624.714) specifically has the phrase “or otherwise in possession”.

    • me

      Your question is interesting, because the Judges seem to have forgotten about the first part of the law itself which defines carry as: “who carries, holds, or possesses a pistol in a motor vehicle, snowmobile, or boat, or on or about the person’s clothes or the person, or otherwise in possession or control in a public place”

      By that clear definition, in the center console would have still been ‘carrying’ per the law. Only locking it in the trunk or putting it into a proper gun case would have satisfied firearm transportation laws and the carry law.

      I’m glad the judges ruled as they did, but I think they screwed it up, based on my reading of the law.

      • Laurie K.

        You are looking at the wrong statute. The statute you are citing is Minn. Stat. 624.713. The statute that the defendant, Prigge was charged with is Minn. Stat. 624.7142.

        • me

          It’s 624.714, but still, thanks for pointing out 624.7142.

          So it seems that if the legislature had just referred back to 624.714 for the definition of ‘carry’ rather than redefine the term for 624.7142, this would have been a non-issue.

          • Laurie K.

            Oh whoops, yes, you are correct, I meant 624.714. And, also, yes, the crux of the opinion is that had the language of 624.7142 contained the same language as 624.714, then the charge would not have been dismissed as it would have included the “otherwise possess” provision which would have made it illegal to have a pistol in your car console while under the influence.

  • Rob

    It looks to me as if the legislature dropped the ball on this statute, and left out the “otherwise in possession or control” part inadvertently. I’d have been fine with the court determining that this statute should be read to reconcile with other carry laws/statutes, which do include the “otherwise in possession” language. Courts aren’t required to defer to legislative language or lack of language when the result would be absurd or (arguably) against legislative intent.

    • True Born Son of Liberty

      You do realize a firearm, either sitting on my nightstand, or in my safe, is “in my possession and control”. And how about in a locked pistol safe designed specifically for automobiles?

      • Rob

        You’re making my points. Carry laws would consider a gun on your nightstand to be in your posession. In a locked safe, not so much.