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Commonwealth v. Brown

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

May 22, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
TYRIEK BROWN.

          Heard: January 5, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on December 13, 2013.

         The cases were tried before William F. Sullivan, J.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Deborah Bates Riordan (Theodore F. Riordan also present) for the defendant.

          Michelle R. King, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          David Rangaviz, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for Erickson Resende, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          GAZIANO, J.

         The primary issue presented in this appeal is whether the Commonwealth is required to prove a defendant knows that a firearm in his or her possession is loaded in order to be convicted of unlawful possession of a loaded firearm under G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n).

         After police officers discovered a loaded firearm in the rear console of a vehicle driven by the defendant, he was charged with and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.), and unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n), [1] The defendant appealed from his convictions, and the Appeals Court vacated the conviction of possession of a loaded firearm, after it concluded that G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n), requires the Commonwealth to prove a defendant's knowledge that the firearm was loaded. See Commonwealth v. Brown, 91 Mass.App.Ct. 286, 287, 293 (2017) . Because the defendant "could not have discerned whether the gun was loaded merely by looking at it, " and the Commonwealth presented no evidence that the defendant had knowledge that the gun was loaded, the Appeals Court decided that there was "no basis on which a rational juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the gun was loaded." Id. at 293. The Appeals Court affirmed the conviction of possession of a firearm without a license, concluding that the prosecutor's closing argument was not improper and that, even if it was, it did not result in a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. I_d. at 294. We allowed both parties' applications for further appellate review.

         In its brief to this court, the Commonwealth contends that G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n), is merely a sentencing enhancement for the underlying offense of unlawful possession of a firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a.) . In this view, an additional element of knowledge that a firearm contains ammunition is not required to prove a violation of G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n). All that is required is knowledge of possession of a firearm. The defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction of possession of a loaded firearm and the Appeals Court's determination that the prosecutor's closing argument did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice.

         We conclude that, to sustain a conviction under G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n), the Commonwealth must prove that a defendant knew the firearm he or she possessed was loaded. Because the Commonwealth presented no evidence in this case that could allow any rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the firearm was loaded, the conviction of possession of a loaded firearm without a license cannot stand. Further, because we conclude that the Commonwealth's closing argument did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice, we affirm the conviction of possession of a firearm without a license, in violation of G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a) .[2]

         1. Background. As the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence of his knowledge that the firearm was loaded, we recite the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 677 (1979) .

         On the morning of July 4, 2013, State police Trooper Matthew Moran stopped a vehicle the defendant was driving on Interstate Route 290 in Worcester for a defective rear brake light. There were two passengers in the vehicle: a male passenger, Horace Murphy, in the front passenger seat; and a female passenger, Joelene Cataquet, in the back seat. Cataquet was asleep when the vehicle was stopped. The defendant said that he was returning from his former girl friend's house in Worcester and was headed back to Boston. He gave the trooper a Massachusetts identification card and a Massachusetts learner's ...


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