The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Tyack, No. 1986 WDA 2014 (November 17, 2015), holding that the trial court did not err when it refused to allow the Appellant to introduce evidence that the stun gun that he possessed was inoperable.
Appellant was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, including “possession of an electric or electronic incapacitation device by a prohibited person.” Appellant was apparently not permitted to possess an electronic incapacitation device because he had been previously convicted of a crime of domestic violence.
Before trial, the Commonwealth filed a motion seeking to prevent Appellant from either presenting evidence or arguing to the jury that, on the night in question, Appellant’s stun gun was inoperable because it did not contain batteries. In support of this Motion, the Commonwealth claimed, “the operability of the stun gun is neither an element of the offense nor an appropriate defense to the charge” of possession of an electric or electronic incapacitation device by a prohibited person.
The trial court granted the Commonwealth’s pre-trial motion and, following trial, the jury found Appellant guilty of possession of an electric or electronic incapacitation device by a prohibited person.
Whether the trial court erred in preventing Appellant from the argument that the stun gun was inoperable?
The trial court did not err when it granted the Commonwealth’s motion and prevented the Appellant from presenting evidence or argument that the stun gun was inoperable because it did not contain batteries.
Appellant claimed that the trial court erred when it ruled that he could not present evidence or argument that the stun gun did not contain batteries and was, therefore, inoperable. The Superior Court, however, concluded that the trial court’s ruling was required by both the plain statutory language of Section 908.1 and the Pa. Supreme Court’s opinion in Commonwealth v. Zortman, 23 A.3d 519 (Pa. 2011).
Appellant was charged with and convicted of “possession of an electric or electronic incapacitation device by a prohibited person.” That statute provides that “no person prohibited from possessing a firearm pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105 (relating to persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms) may possess or use an electric or electronic incapacitation device.
Similar to the statute at issue in the Zortman case – which involved the applicability of a “prohibited possession of firearm” statute to possession of an inoperable firearm – the legislature defined an “electric or electronic incapacitation device” as “a portable device which is designed or intended to by the manufacturer to be used, offensively or defensively, to temporarily immobilize or incapacitate persons by means of electric pulse or current.”
The Court went on to reason that a car without gas does not lose its identity as an entity designed for locomotion. A laptop computer does not cease to be a computer if its battery is removed. And, a handgun -such as the inoperable handgun in the Zortman case – does not lose its designed function merely because a critical piece is missing.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that under Pennsylvania’s principals of statutory construction, as illuminated by the Zortman decision, the statutory language of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 908.1(c) and (f) is “clear and unambiguous” and that any evidence that Appellant’s stun gun was inoperable because it did not contain batteries was irrelevant to both the Commonwealth’s case and Appellant’s defense.
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