Client Receives ‘No Bill’ from Grand Jury After Involuntary Firearm Carry and Arrest at Love Field Airport
When you have a legally owned firearm sometimes you can forget exactly where you are taking your gun. After all, recent legislative changes in Texas have broadened the freedoms that responsible gun owners have, and it’s hard to remember (particularly if you are rushed) exactly where you can and cannot take your gun.
But sometimes, it is not a situation of ignorance of prohibited places where you may have your personal legally owned firearm. Sometimes, it’s a matter of not realizing that you even have your firearm in your possession. That was the legal situation that I represented my client in, before a recent Grand Jury case.
The Forgotten Gun and Case
My client is a decent and upstanding citizen, who has a solid reputation within his community. He is a responsible legal gun owner and had no previous legal infractions or issues in the past. A businessman who has a sometimes hectic and difficult schedule to maintain, and someone who made a very honest oversight, with a shocking legal outcome.
My client was set to fly out of Love Field Airport for a work conference. Running late, he grabbed his work bag that he kept in the car along with his other suitcase and entered security.
Days prior to his trip, my client had placed his gun (which was stored in a case) in his work bag that he kept in his vehicle. The case and gun were not particularly heavy, so when my client grabbed his bag and headed towards security, he was unaware that the carry-on bag also contained his handgun. We’ve all been in that position before; rushing to the airport and trying to get everything together quickly to make the flight on time.
Typically, my client chose to legally carry his gun in his vehicle (within the gun case) for safety purposes. On September 1, 2007, The Texas Motorist Protection Act (HB 1815) went into effect permitting any law-abiding Texas resident the legal right to carry a handgun inside their motor vehicle in Texas without an LTC (License To Carry) or any other permit. As long as you are legally permitted to own a firearm and the vehicle belongs to you, you may have a gun, loaded or unloaded, in your vehicle in the state of Texas.
However, when my client’s vehicle required servicing, he responsibly removed the firearm and placed it in his travel bag for safe keeping. When my client passed through security at Love Field Airport, he was asked by the TSA agent if he was carrying anything illegal or contraband in his luggage. He replied that he was not, and that the only thing in his bag was his laptop. When his bag was searched, the legal handgun in its case was discovered, and my client was promptly arrested.
In Texas, a person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly possesses or “goes with a firearm,” among other places, “in or into the secured area of an airport,” per Texas Penal Code §46.03(a)(5). This secured area by definition includes “an area of an airport terminal building to which access is controlled by the inspection of persons and property under federal law.” § 46.03(c)(2).
My client faced a 3rd degree felony charge, punishable by 10 years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. In addition, his solid reputation as a citizen and business professional, as well as the future of his business and livelihood were in significant jeopardy. Simply because he had forgotten where he had placed his handgun and case, in his rush to get to the airport on time.
The Defense of Absent Mens Rea (Intention to Commit a Crime)
Before the Grand Jury, I represented my client and argued for the absence of Mens rea and a voluntary act that would warrant the legitimacy of his arrest and charge. In this case, my client was sincerely shocked and dismayed to see the handgun and presented his ignorance to the presence of his gun in his baggage to the TSA agent at the time he was searched.
The State was responsible to prove that my client knowingly or recklessly possessed the weapon. Just because he had a weapon at the airport, did not imply that it was premeditated, or my client’s intention to conceal the weapon from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) authorities.
What elements helped the defense of my client, was his outstanding reputation and clean previous record. The facts of his story were easily corroborated, and his affect was deeply apologetic for the lapse in doing a thorough check before entering Love Field airport and the secured area.
He was not aware he had his gun with him. If he knew he had his gun, he would have contacted a family member to pick it up before proceeding into the security area of the airport. It was never his intention to enter the airport with his firearm, or board his flight with it in his possession and carry-on.
How Often Does This Exact Scenario Happen at Airports?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has formidable laws that protect the safety of other travelers, and as a preventative measure against acts of terrorism on private or domestic flights. Many of these measures were new and instituted after 2001, following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks and commercial flight hijackings.
These laws are essential to provide heightened vigilance in the interest of National Security. And the penalties for violating firearm or weapon laws at any airport in the Country, are significantly punitive. We know why this is a necessary precaution in our social and global political climate.
Did you know that nearly 12 weapons are discovered on air travelers every day, according to data released by the TSA in this February 2019 report? Here are some of the other findings according to 2018 incidents and arrests at airports across the United States:
- 4,239 total firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country.
- 6 firearms are detected by TSA officers every week.
- 15% of the firearms found by TSA officials were loaded.
- There as a 7% increase in firearm detections at secured areas from 2017 to 2018.
What is not known is how many of these arrests and charges for weapon possession in a secured area were criminally motivated, versus innocent citizens who, like my client, simply forgot or were unaware that they could not bring a licensed gun into an airport. What we do know is that the legal consequences are severe.
The ‘No Bill’ Decision by the Grand Jury Ruled in Favor of My Client
In the vast majority of cases like my client’s, when someone brings a gun into a secure area, the individual ‘forgot’ that the gun was in his or her luggage. This lack of culpability is a defense to prosecution – which at a minimum, requires reckless mens rea. Tex Penal Code § 6.02(a)-(c).
Moreover, Texas law further requires that an act be voluntary and states, “Possession is a voluntary act if the possessor knowingly obtains or receives the thing possessed or is aware of his control of the thing or a sufficient time to permit him to terminate his control.” Tex. Penal Code § 6.01(a), (b).
The Grand Jury accepted our plea for a ‘No Bill’ on the charges regarding possession of a firearm in a secured area. What this means is that the foreman of the Grand Jury writes across the bill of indictment ‘no bill’, which indicates that the criminal charges that were alleged against the accused are dropped, due to insufficient evidence.
In this case, the prosecution could not prove (without a reasonable doubt) that my client had knowledge of his possession of the firearm, or the intention to willfully violate the law by traveling through an airport with his licensed personal firearm.
What does this mean for my client? Not only will he not face prison time and fine of $10,000.00, but the record of the charge will be expunged, so that it will not impact his personal or professional business reputation.
The State and Federal Penal Code is not without compassion and understanding, for situations of unwillful ignorance or accidental incidents such as this one. We celebrate this victory with our client.
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