July 31, 2017
A Lesson in Intoxicated Possession
Things are finally looking up for people who are drunk and have firearms in a close proximity. On July 31, 2017, the COA published a decision of what it meant to possess a firearm in your car while under the influence. The case is State v. Prigge (A17-403). Mr. Prigge was driving in Maple Grove and was stopped by law enforcement. The officer deemed him to be intoxicated as he was likely coming from the Lookout Bar and Grill. During an inventory search of Mr. Prigge’s 1983 Pontiac Trans Am, a loaded handgun was found in the center console. The state charged appellant with several offenses, including carrying a pistol while under the influence of alcohol in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 624.7142, subdivision 1, subsection 4. Prigge moved to dismiss the charge for lack of probable cause. The district court granted the motion saying Prigge was not carrying the pistol on or about his clothes or his person. The State appealed.
Minnesota Statutes section 624.7142, subdivision 1, subsection 4, provides that “[a] person may not carry a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person in a public place” while under the influence of alcohol. Just for a second let’s talk about how someone carries “on or about” their clothes. Maybe it is like when you tie your t-shirt above the navel because the hot temps and the gun is in the tied off part? But does carrying the pistol in the center console constitute “on or about” their clothes?
“If the Legislature’s intent is clear from the statute’s plain and unambiguous language, then a court interprets the statute according to its plain meaning” without engaging in further construction. State v. Haywood, 886 N.W.2d 485, 488 (Minn. 2016); Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2016) (articulating canons of statutory construction). Section 624.7142 does not define the term “carry.” Where a term is undefined in the statute, we can ascertain the meaning by looking at the dictionary definition of the term. Meleyco P’ship No. 2 v. City of West Saint Paul, 874 N.W.2d 440, 444 (Minn. App. 2016). “Carry” is defined as “[t]o hold or support while moving; bear,” or “[t]o hold or be capable of holding.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 285 (5th ed. 2011).
In State v. Larson, the court held that a plain reading of the word “carry” includes transporting or conveying a pistol on one’s person, even if the pistol is unloaded and in a case. State v. Larson, 895 N.W.2d 655, 658 (Minn. App. 2017). Larson held that section 624.7142, subdivision 1, subsection 4, prohibits carrying a pistol in a public place while under the influence of alcohol when the pistol is unloaded and hand-carried in an enclosed and secure gun case. Id. at 660. Larson stands tall against drunk carrying. So Prigge loses, right? No, because Larson talks about when there is no daylight between the drunk person and gun. Here, Prigge had it in the center console. He was not stumbling around with his secure gun case. So they looked a different statute.
They read our statute, 624.7142 in conjunction with its companion statute, Minnesota Statutes section 624.714 (2016). Section 624.714 prohibits possession of a firearm without a permit in a public place and provides that:
A person . . . who carries, holds, or possesses a pistol in a motor vehicle . . . or on or about the person’s clothes or the person, or otherwise in possession or control in a public place . . . without first having obtained a permit to carry the pistol is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. A person who is convicted a second or subsequent time is guilty of a felony.
Id., subd. 1a (emphasis added).
In a battle of the 624’s, here is the difference. 624.714 broadly prohibits possession or control. Look at the language… otherwise in possession. They even talk about motor vehicles. Whereas 624.7142 only talks about clothes on or about. So a tied up hypercolor shirt. Because section 624.7124 uses different language than section 624.714, we must assume that the legislature intended them to apply to different conduct.
The court refuses to engraft section 624.714’s broad prohibitions into section 624.7124. That is good because courts that are drunk with their own engrafting make a mockery of all of those who have engrafted before. Because there was no physical nexus between Prigge and his gun, he wins. So the crystal clear lesson here is when the sun is out, and the Leinie’s flows, the guns should be out of your clothes.