“My concern isn’t so much about that individual case, that individual wasn’t trying to commit any violence. It’s just going forward the language in that case, it could open the door for anybody to basically bring any weapon into school as long as they say it’s for a lawful purpose” – Lancaster (PA) District Attorney Craig Stedman
Wouldn’t it always be illegal to bring a weapon to a school for an illegal purpose? Or is it illegallier?
The above quote pertains to the case of a Pennsylvania dad who was arrested for having a pocketknife in his child’s school. He was convicted of a misdemeanor charge, which was upheld by a 3-judge panel. This was appealed and accepted for en banc review and re-hearing by the entire court.
The court issued their ruling about a week ago, vacating the trial court’s conviction. Chief Counsel Joshua Prince breaks down the Court’s decision.
(T)he Superior Court, en banc, without any dissenting opinions, filed its decision vacating the trial court’s finding of guilt and declaring:
We disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that the language of Section 912(c) is vague.
Rather, we conclude that, in order to ascertain the meaning of Section 912(c), we need not look beyond its plain language. The plain meaning of Section 912(c) provides two separate defenses: possessing and using a weapon on school property “in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity” as well as possessing “for other lawful purpose.” (emphasis added, as Chief Counsel Prince specifically argued this exact construction and noted the different verbs utilized related to the different provisions)
Consistent therewith, the court declared that:
for purposes of the instant case, the plain meaning of the phrase “other lawful purpose” is an aim or goal different from, or in addition to, an aim or goal described in the first clause of Section 912(c), i.e., in conjunction with “a lawful supervised school activity or course.” The second clause of this subsection, thus, serves as a catchall provision.
Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, the “other lawful purpose” language does not restrict the defense provided in Section 912(c). Instead, the phrase does just the opposite: it expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of Section 912(c), regardless of whether it is school-related. (emphasis added, as Chief Counsel Prince additionally argued this construction of the statute).
The Superior Court also included a footnote declaring:
Although we are concerned about individuals possessing weapons on school property, we are bound by the broad defense that the legislature has provided defendants in such cases.
While somewhat dry, the implications of this decision are likely to be felt as it is a tremendous precedent for future cases. The court has stepped up and highlighted the importance and broad-nature of the “other lawful purpose” clause. That said, the decision only grants an affirmative defense for someone charged with weapon possession on school grounds. It would take an act by the legislature to specifically legalize said activity. You can read more about that here.