Is the Center Console of Your Vehicle A ‚ÄúPublic Place‚ÄĚ Under Minnesota Law?
Center Console: Is it a "public" or "private place"?
Laws may often appear to be little more than a formal expression of a society‚Äôs common sense and ‚Äėthou shalt not carry a handgun in public while drunk or high‚Äô is one of them.
But as with many laws, the ‚Äėdevil‚Äô is in the details.
Recently the Minnesota Court of Appeals considered the case of a motorist who was stopped by police for a traffic violation and was placed under arrest for DWI. Pursuant to the motorist‚Äôs request for the officer to retrieve his wallet and keys from the vehicle‚Äôs center console, the officer discovered a handgun.
The motorist was prosecuted for violating Minnesota Statute section 624.7142, subd. 1 which prohibits carrying a pistol on or about a person‚Äôs clothes or person in a public place while under the influence of alcohol and/or other controlled substances.
Anyone reading the law would naturally ask two questions:
- Was the location of the pistol in the center console of his vehicle ‚Äėon or about‚Äô the driver‚Äôs clothes or person under the statute; and
- Is the driver‚Äôs center console a ‚Äėpublic place‚Äô under the law?
To the first question, the driver conceded that the pistol found in the center console was ‚Äėon or about‚Äô his person as previous cases law established that the statute is satisfied if there is either a physical nexus between the person and the pistol or if the pistol is carried within arm‚Äôs reach of the person. Both were satisfied in this case.
For the second question, the Court of Appeals determined that the term public place as used in the statute was ambiguous.
In an earlier case, involving a person who carried his pistol on his person at a bar he owned and operated the Court of Appeals defined a ‚Äúpublic place‚ÄĚ as ‚Äúgenerally an indoor or outdoor area, whether privately or publicly owned, to which the public have access by right or invitation, express or implied, whether by payment of money or not.‚ÄĚ
Clearly this definition would not apply to the center console of a motor vehicle so the Court of Appeals re-aligned its earlier definition to apply to the roadway and not to a pistol owner‚Äôs vehicle.
The Court of Appeals recognized that while the law allows people to protect their homes and businesses, the law must also protect the public from dangers inherent to firearm possession by impaired persons and limit those places where a person could carry a pistol while intoxicated.
Because those dangers to the public are present regardless of whether the armed and impaired individual is travelling in a vehicle or on foot, it would make no sense to cure the ‚Äėtargeted mischief‚Äô by allowing an intoxicated person to carry a pistol in a vehicle, but prohibit them from carrying the same weapon while walking.¬†
Accordingly, the court found that the only sensible interpretation of public place as intended by the legislature was to define a personal vehicle operated on a public highway as a mode of transportation and not a private place, meaning that the driver could be properly prosecuted for carrying a pistol in a public place while intoxicated.
However, the result may have been different if the gun was found in a locked trunk as opposed to the center console as then there may have been a question as to whether the pistol was ‚Äėon or about‚Äô his person. We‚Äôll update you if such a case is decided by the courts in the future.If you find yourself facing criminal charges involving DWI or firearms (or both), our attorneys can meet with you to discuss your options.¬† At Halberg Criminal Defense, our team approach puts the firm‚Äôs collective knowledge and experience in your corner. Our attorneys are available 24-7 ‚ÄĒ call us at 612-DEFENSE (612-333-3673).