The Court of Appeals recently issued a decision holding that a person’s front yard is not a “public place” under a statute making it a crime to carry a gun without a permit in a public place. In State v. Yang, someone called 911 after seeing the defendant carrying a gun at his house. Police went to the house and saw a group of men on the front steps leading into the front yard of the house. The police ordered the men on the ground and found that the defendant was in possession of a gun in his front yard.
At issue in this case was whether the police had reasonable suspicion to seize Yang by ordering him to the ground. The police relied on the fact that Yang was allegedly in violation of Minnesota Statutes § 624.714, subd. 1a, which makes it a crime to possess a firearm without a permit in a public place. “Public place” is defined in Minnesota Statutes § 624.7181 subd. 1(c). The Court rejected both the defandant’s and the State’s proposed definitions of “public place” and instead proposed two categories of land that qualify as a public place: 1) government-owned property and 2) private property dedicated to public use. The Court found that Yang’s front yard fit neither category, so it was not a public place under the statute. Accordingly, the Court found that the police did not have sufficient cause to seize Yang because he did not possess a weapon in a public place.
The Court’s ruling is helpful to clarify the rather ambiguous language within the definition of “public place.” The Court noted, the statute has “a substantial gap between the included and excluded classes of property, describing narrowly what is a public place and describing narrowly what is not a public place; many properties seem to fit neither class.” Hopefully, this new framework will lead to more consistent determinations of what is a public place under the statute. Personally, I think the Court got the issue right by focusing on a property’s function as public or private place, rather than getting bogged down in the ambiguity of the statutory language. Now, we can walk proudly with unpermitted firearms knowing that much of the ambiguity between public and private places in the statute has been cleared up. If you find yourself in a public place without a firearm permit, however, make sure to call a Minnesota criminal defense attorney.