Massachusetts’s ban on the possession of stun guns has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. In 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”) upheld the constitutionality of Massachusetts’s prohibition on the possession of stun guns (Jaime Caetano v. Massachusetts, 470 Mass. 774 (2015)). This year, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) overturned this decision finding the categorical prohibition inconsistent with SCOTUS precedent. (Jaime Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. ____ (2016)).
As background, the case began when a woman, Jaime Caetano, was given a stun gun by a friend to protect herself against an abusive ex-boyfriend and the father of her children. It is important to note that Ms. Caetano obtained multiple restraining orders against her ex-boyfriend that all proved futile. One night after work, Ms. Caetano’s ex waited outside her work place, confronted her, and began screaming harassing statements towards her. Ms. Caetano pulled out her stun gun and threatened to use it. The ex-boyfriend backed off and left. At a later date, Ms. Caetano was suspected of shoplifting. She consented to have her purse searched, and police officers found the stun gun in her bag. She was arrested, charged, and eventually found guilty of “possessing an electrical weapon” aka the stun gun. She appealed to the SJC on Second Amendment grounds. The SJC rejected her claim.
The SJC’s reasoning was threefold. First, the SJC explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” SCOTUS expressly rejected this argument in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570, 627 (2008). Second, the SJC reasoned that stun guns are “dangerous and unusual” – an historical limitation on the right to bear arms. The SJC concluded that stun guns are unusual because they are a modern invention. SCOTUS notes that this is the same argument as the former, which was rejected in Heller. Lastly, the SJC explained that stun guns are not “readily adaptable to use in the military.” Again, Heller expressly rejected the proposition that “only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.” SCOTUS concluded that the SJC “gravely erred” in its decision.
SCOTUS notes a few important points in its decision that I want to address. First, Ms. Caetano could have legally possessed a gun to defend herself in this situation. She could have potentially used deadly force against her ex and father of her children, but not the less drastic measure of using a stun gun. This seems illogical.
Second, SCOTUS points out that “a State’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe.” As I mentioned above, Ms. Caetano obtained multiple restraining orders against her ex – all proved futile. The Commonwealth did not protect her from her abuser, and so she tried to protect herself – this time successfully. 1/4 of domestic violence fatalities are carried out with guns. So hypothetically, Ms. Caetano’s ex-boyfriend could have legally carried a firearm while she was banned from carrying a stun gun. Illogical.
Another point that SCOTUS mentions is that the Commonwealth “chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict [Caetano] of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life.” SCOTUS finds this situation tragic. Prosecutors have the discretion to refuse to go forward on some cases. This is known in the legal world as “Nolle Prosequi,” Latin for “unwilling to pursue.” In fact, during trial in this case, the prosecutor urged the court to “believe the defendant.” Given that SCOTUS overturned the SJC’s decision and Justice Alito followed with a scathing opinion, Ms. Caetano’s case seems like a good example of when a Nolle Prosequi may have been the just avenue for the prosecutor to pursue.
In the end, this is good news for defendants (or in Ms. Caetano case, victim turned defendant) who are currently being prosecuted for possessing stun guns. If you have been charged with illegally possessing a stun gun, a firearm, or a dangerous weapon, contact Urbelis Law immediately for a free consultation. 617-830-2188.