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Court Limits Application of Law Prohibiting Possession of Weapons on School Grounds

April 17, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Last month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court published a decision that broadens the scope of the defenses available to those who face charges of possession of a weapon on school property. This ruling could have an important impact on the outcome of other cases involving this charge. If you have questions about how this opinion affects you, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can address your concerns.

Possessing a Weapon on School Property

In Pennsylvania, a person can be charged with possessing a weapon on school grounds if he or she has a weapon in his or her possession in:

  • Any publicly-funded elementary or secondary school;
  • Any licensed elementary or secondary private school; or
  • Any elementary or secondary parochial school.

A person can also be charged with this offense if he or she is caught possessing a weapon on a school bus or other type of school transportation. This offense is charged as a first degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Fortunately, those who are charged with this crime can raise one of two defenses, including that:

  • The weapon was possessed and used as part of a legal supervised school activity or class; or
  • The weapon was possessed for another lawful purpose.

Commonwealth v. Goslin

In this case, a young boy was arrested for possessing a pocket knife at his elementary school. Later, the child’s parents were invited to the school for a conference about the disciplinary actions that would be taken. During the meeting, the child’s father, who was distressed that his young child had been arrested and was also a construction worker, laid his pocket knife on the table and asked if that action was also worthy of an arrest. Although Goslin explained that he had the knife for work purposes, he was still arrested and later convicted.

In its recently published opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that the lower court had made a mistake when it argued that to qualify as a defense, the weapon must have been possessed for a lawful purpose that was solely related to a school activity. Upon review, the Superior Court found that the “other lawful purpose” defense actually covers any additional or different lawful reason for the presence of the weapon that is not school-related.

As a result of the holding, Goslin will receive a new trial. Furthermore, the court’s decision significantly broadens the scope of the defenses available to those accused of possessing a weapon on school grounds. According to the ruling, as long as a defendant can produce evidence of any lawful purpose for which the weapon was possessed, he or she will likely escape conviction.

Contact us Today to Speak With a Skilled Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Although the court’s ruling will allow those accused of this crime to argue additional defenses, it is still critical to retain an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who can ensure that your interests are protected. If you were recently arrested for a crime, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim at (215) 486-0123 or by sending us a brief message and we’ll help you schedule a consultation with a skilled criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case.



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