Today, in State v. Ndikum, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals holding that knowledge of possession of a pistol is an element of the crime of possession of a pistol in public.
Mr. Ndikum, an attorney in Minneapolis, was originally charged with felony possession of a dangerous weapon within a courthouse complex and gross misdemeanor possession of a pistol in public after a revolver was found in his briefcase as he attempted to enter the Hennepin County Family Justice Center in 2009. Although he admitted the revolver was his, from the onset, Mr. Ndikum claimed he did not know the firearm was in his briefcase as he was on his way to a hearing at the courthouse.
At trial, Ndikum’s wife testified that she placed the firearm in the briefcase before he left for work. Mr. Ndikum, consistent with his previous assertions, testified that he did not know the firearm was in his briefcase. Based on this testimony, Mr. Ndikum asked the district to instruct the jury that knowledge is an element of both the felony and gross misdemeanor charges he was facing. However, the trial judge only agreed to give such a jury instruction on the felony, but not the gross misdemeanor charge as the statute has no express knowledge requirement. The jury acquitted Ndikum on the felony and convicted him on the gross misdemeanor.
On his appeal to the Court of Appeals, Ndikum argued that the trial court made a mistake by not instructing the jury that knowledge is an element of possession of a pistol in public. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the conviction. The State appealed that reversal, but the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed that knowledge is an element of possession of a pistol in public. The Supreme Court reasoned that silence as to some mens rea (i.e. that a defendant know the facts that make his conduct illegal), is typically disfavored and not sufficient to avoid such a requirement.
Coley Grostyan is a Minneapolis, MN gun crime lawyer who represents individuals accused of gun crimes in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, and throughout the State of Minnesota.