Stunning Supreme Court Ruling Kicks MA High Court’s Stun Gun Case in the Groin

By Roger J. Katz, Attoney at Law and Stephen L. D’Andrilli

Arbalest Quarrel
Arbalest Quarrel

New York, NY  -(Ammoland.com)-  No American citizen should take for granted, even for a moment, the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637 (2008).

The high Court made abundantly clear: the right of the people to keep and bear arms is an individual right, independent of and unconnected to service in the military.

Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the majority of the Court. The Court’s holding is clear and cogent, categorical and unequivocal.

Henceforth, so long as the Heller holding remains intact, no law can be enacted that is inconsistent with and denigrates the individual right of the American citizen to keep and bear arms.

Laws enacted before Heller that are inconsistent with and which denigrate the free exercise of the individual right to keep and bear arms will be struck down.

On March 21, 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court did just that. The high Court struck down just such a law. The case is Caetano vs. Massachusetts, ______ U.S. ______ (2016), 2016 U.S LEXIS 1862 (March 21, 2016). The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court was unanimous.

If you are wondering why the left-wing of the Court, comprising Justices, Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, voted with the conservative wing of the Court, comprising Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, be advised they did so because they were compelled to do so. Heller is precedential authority. Even though the left-wing of the high Court dissented from the decision in Heller, and did so strenuously, the left-wing of the Court was in the minority at the time. The majority rules. So the entire Court must abide by the precedents set by and established by the Court’s majority. This principle of jurisprudence is called stare decisis.

It means a Court must abide by and uphold its earlier decisions.

What binds the U.S. Supreme Court also binds lesser courts, both State and federal. Furthermore, neither Congress nor the U.S. President can change or ignore U.S. Supreme Court decisions. To do so not only undermines the rule of law; such disregard for U.S. Supreme Court decisions undermines the Separation of Powers Doctrine and destroys the system of checks and balances that exist among the three Branches of Government.

Yet, This does not mean that the U.S. Supreme Court cannot, itself, overturn one of its own prior decisions. But, the U.S. Supreme Court is generally loathe to do so, and for good reason. For, to do so undercuts the very integrity of the Court. But, if Judge Merrick Garland, or another Judge with the same legal philosophical bent, ultimately secures a seat on the high Court, the left-wing of the Court – having a clear majority at that point – may very well overturn Heller, given their chance to do so. At present, though, the liberal wing of the high Court cannot muster enough votes. It cannot use Caetano to overturn Heller outright at this juncture; so it did not try. It had no alternative. The liberal wing of the high Court was compelled, under the doctrine of stare decisis, to decide Caetano in light of the majority’s holding in Heller.

With the passing of Justice Scalia, though, an uneasy balance exists between the right-wing and left-wing of the Court: 4 to 4. So, what is Caetano all about?

 

Analysis Of The Caetano Case Facts Of The Case And Legal Issues

In Caetano, the Appellant, a Massachusetts woman, suffered a brutal beating at the hands of her abusive boyfriend, who put her in the hospital. She had obtained numerous restraining orders against her abuser, but they all proved futile, and she constantly feared for her life. She obtained a stun gun from a friend for self-defense. One day, the Appellant’s violent ex-boyfriend payed Appellant a visit. He threatened to harm her once again and, since the abuser outweighed Appellant by 100 pounds, she could not protect herself against another assault except through the use of a weapon. She stood her ground, displayed the stun gun, and the abusive ex-boyfriend got scared and left her alone.

Unfortunately, for Appellant, possession of a stun gun is illegal under Massachusetts’ law, even though the fact of having it on hand may have saved her life.

Stun Gun
Stun Gun

The police later discovered the weapon and arrested the Appellant. The trial court found her guilty of possessing a contraband weapon under State law, ALM GL ch. 140 § 131J.

The State law says, in part, No person shall possess a portable device or weapon from which an electrical current, impulse, wave or beam may be directed, which current, impulse, wave or beam is designed to incapacitate temporarily, injure or kill. . . .”

[Conveniently] Federal, State, and local law enforcement officers are exempted from application of the Massachusetts law. The penalty for violation of the law for everyone else is harsh:

Whoever violates this section shall be punished by a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 or by imprisonment in the house of correction for not less than 6 months nor more than 2½ years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.” Note: under the law, “A law enforcement officer may arrest without a warrant any person whom he has probable cause to believe has violated this section.” The Massachusetts law also shreds the Fourth Amendment.

The Appellant was found guilty of violation of the Massachusetts Statute. Circumstances surrounding Appellants’ need for the weapon – namely to protect life and limb – were considered by the trial court to be irrelevant. The Appellant appealed the adverse decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of the State, the highest Court of the State. The Appellant argued that, under the Second Amendment, she was permitted to possess the stun gun. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts disagreed, holding “that a stun gun is not the type of weapon that is eligible for Second Amendment protection.” The Massachusetts high Court reasoned that stun guns are unprotected because they were not in common use at the time of enactment of the Second Amendment and because they fall within the general prohibition against carrying dangerous and unusual weapons.

The legal issues the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with in Caetano are straightforward: first, whether a stun gun is an “arm” within the meaning of the Second Amendment; second, whether Massachusetts’ blanket prohibition on the possession of stun guns infringes the right of the people to keep and bear arms in violation of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

 

The Importance Of The Caetano Case In Respect To The Second Amendment: Decision And Reasoning Of The Court

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court relying specifically on Heller, held that the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in use at the time of the founding of our Nation.

There was no formal majority opinion.  That is to say the unusual decision in Caetano was handed down, per curiam. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, two conservative-wing Justices, did, however, write a concurring opinions. Were he able, Justice Scalia would most certainly have either joined Justice Thomas in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion or would have penned his own.

Not surprisingly, the liberal-wing Justices did not wish to weigh-in with a formal opinion of their own.

The left-wing of the high Court is obviously waiting for the day it forms a majority bloc on the high Court. It will then be in the position to overturn Heller when the appropriate Second Amendment case comes before it. If Judge Merrick Garland or someone like him succeeds to Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, then the day the left-wing of the Court has been anxiously waiting for will have arrived.

The Caetano case makes plain that the Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms entails the right of self-defense – a right that antigun groups object to and constantly attack.

Justices Alito and Thomas Supreme Court took the Massachusetts high Court to task, attacking both the reasoning and decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of the State. In a blistering critique of the Massachusetts high Court, Justices Alito and Thomas admonished the Court, asserting that the Court professed to apply Heller but, actually wholly ignored it. Justices Alito and Thomas castigated the Supreme Judicial Court for its “ill-treatment of Heller.”

The Justices said: “We held {in Heller} that the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding. It is hard to imagine language speaking more directly to the point. Yet the Supreme Judicial Court did not so much as mention it.”

Justices Alito and Thomas were not done with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. They said that the issue of dangerousness of a weapon does not apply when a weapon, such as a stun gun, is used for a lawful purpose. The Appellant, Caetano, did in fact use the stun gun for a lawful purpose: self-defense. That is not in dispute. That point was never in dispute. In emphasizing the point, Justices Alito and Thomas ripped apart another argument the Massachusetts high Court made when affirming the decision of the trial Court, against the Appellant.

Justices Alito and Thomas also admonished the Court, and by extension, antigun groups, for assailing those who wish to exercise the fundamental right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense – a legitimate purpose under the Second Amendment. Justices Alito and Thomas pointed out that some people may have reservations about using deadly force due to moral, religious, or emotional reasons but that such reservations do not and cannot override another person’s desire to exercise his or her right of self-defense, as guaranteed under the Second Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court thereupon remanded the case to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts with instructions to enter judgment for the Appellant, Caetano, consistent with the high Court’s holding and reasoning.

 

Do Other Jurisdictions Criminalize Possession Of Stun Guns?

Yes. Consider just a couple. New York City, for example, criminalizes the mere possession of electronic stun guns, under NYC Administrative Code § 10-135. Violation of this Section of the Code is a Class A Misdemeanor. Under NY CLS Penal § 70.15, a person found guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor can receive a prison sentence of up to one year. In certain situations, as defined in Statute, that prison sentence can be considerably longer.

Another jurisdiction in the State of New York, namely, Long Beach, New York, has an ordinance making possession of a stun gun a Class A misdemeanor: Long Beach, New York Code of Ordinances Sec. 63.

The Long Beach Ordinance and the NYC code section are both illegal and must be struck down. How many other States and local governing bodies within States have such illegal laws on the books? One can only wonder. But they must be legion; and they are all illegal under Heller – at least so long as Heller remains valid law and is not overturned. If Judge Merrick Garland were to be confirmed, Heller would likely, at some point, be overturned. And Justice Scalia’s work would be undone.

After Caetano U.S. Senate Must Protect Heller Case And Its Progeny

 

The U.S. Senate Has Done Its Job: It Has Decided To Withhold Its Consent To Move Forward With The Confirmation Process Of Obama’s Nominee To The U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Senate must not acquiesce to pressure. It must not move forward with a confirmation hearing and floor vote on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. For, we know that, under any scenario, Judge Garland – as Justice Garland – will provide the left-wing of the Court with the key vote it needs to overturn Heller. Hopefully, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold fast and preclude a formal confirmation hearing and refrain from permitting an up or down vote on the Garland nomination.

Under Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the President nominates individuals to the high Court with the advice and consent of the Senate. The President does not, then, simply, appoint a person to the high Court. The Constitution does not permit that. The U.S. Senate can withhold its consent and it has refused, at this time, to give it, and that is its right/

The Senate recognizes the danger to precedential setting cases impacting Americans’ fundamental rights and liberties, such as Heller, if the confirmation process were to proceed. Appropriately, the Senate has decided to exercise vigilance and caution in this matter at this poignant time and given the sensitive circumstances presently facing our Nation.

The U.S. Senate has done everything required of it. It has performed its duties under the U.S. Constitution, as it must. The President and his sycophants in the mainstream media don’t like the Senate’s decision. But they would do well, now, to accept it and keep their mouths shut!

About The Arbalest Quarrel:

Arbalest Group created `The Arbalest Quarrel’ website for a special purpose. That purpose is to educate the American public about recent Federal and State firearms control legislation. No other website, to our knowledge, provides as deep an analysis or as thorough an analysis. Arbalest Group offers this information free.

For more information, visit: www.arbalestquarrel.com.

5 Comments
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5WarVeteran
5WarVeteran
5 years ago

We do not live in Britain and for good reason. We left that godforsaken country for religious freedom as well as for the GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO SELF DEFENSE. If you are aware of the ORIGINAL 13th Amendment which was never removed only hidden, it prevented BY LAW any individual having a royal title from ever holding a position within the US Government. EVERY B.A.R. lawyer is also an ESQUIRE which IS a Royal Title. More than 78% of the US Government leadership are BAR certified and hold allegiance to Britain and the Crown… THINK ABOUT THAT and remember Britain… Read more »

David
David
5 years ago

Justices Alito and Thomas Supreme Court took the Massachusetts high Court to task, attacking both the reasoning and decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of the State. In a blistering critique of the Massachusetts high Court, Justices Alito and Thomas admonished the Court, asserting that the Court professed to apply Heller but, actually wholly ignored it. Justices Alito and Thomas castigated the Supreme Judicial Court for its “ill-treatment of Heller.” The Justices said: “We held {in Heller} that the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of… Read more »

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
5 years ago
Reply to  David

California is just getting away with it as long as they can hoping that Hilary gets elected and appoints enough anti-Second Amendment civil rights justices to negate Heller.

robert
robert
5 years ago
Reply to  David

Which also means any law enacted by all states against carrying certain knives, billy clubs, metal knuckles and swords are void.

ROGER KATZ
ROGER KATZ
5 years ago
Reply to  David

David, You ask a most important question. The simple answer is: California’s actions are, most likely, illegal. I would need to take a close look at the actual language of the Statute in question, but, you are probably correct. And, as I said in the Arbalest Quarrel article, “How many other States and local governing bodies within States have such illegal laws on the books [like Massachusetts’ law on stun guns]? One can only wonder. But they must be legion; but they are all illegal under Heller.” Your question raises another important one: how is it that State Legislatures continue… Read more »