PA Superior Court Finds Justification Defense Limited but Available in Felon in Possession of Firearm Case

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esq.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esq.

Self-Defense and Justification May Provide a Defense to Felon in Possession of a Firearm Charges

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has just ruled that the defense of justification may be available as a defense against illegal gun possession charges. However, the court concluded that the defense is strictly limited only to the time during which the defendant was legally acting in self-defense. In Commonwealth v. Miklos, the defendant was convicted of a Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act under 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 6105 for possessing a firearm which he wrestled away from a drug dealer who attempted to rob him. On appeal, the court held that although Miklos was justified in taking the gun from the drug dealer, the conviction should be affirmed because Miklos continued to possess the gun for some time after the altercation had ended.

The facts of the case are relatively straight forward. Police officers in Allegheny County arrived at the scene of a shooting and found a white male dying from a gunshot wound on the sidewalk. The soon-to-be-decedent, through a hearsay exception called the dying declaration exception, told the police that the person who shot him was named Dave. The victim had pills and $757 on him. Following some investigation, an Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office detective learned that the eventual defendant, a man named David Miklos, was an associate of the decedent. Accordingly, police arrested Miklos and interviewed him.

Miklos, who had not watched my video on why you should speak with an attorney before giving a statement to the police, waived his Miranda warnings and gave a statement to detectives. Miklos told the detectives that he would regularly buy or sell pills from or to the victim. On the day in question, Miklos went to buy pills, and the victim pulled a gun and began to rob him. The victim began to go through Miklos’ pockets. Miklos seized an opportunity to grab the gun, and the gun went off during the ensuing struggle, fatally wounding the decedent. Miklos fired the gun a second time after the decedent continued to lunge towards him.

After the shooting, Miklos moved the victim’s body from underneath the wheels of the car they had both been in, took $1,100 from the victim, picked up the shell casings, got into the victim’s car, and drove away. He threw the firearm and shell casings off a bridge. At trial, Miklos testified to roughly the same version of events.

Miklos waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded by way of bench trial. In a bench trial (also called a waiver trial), the trial judge makes the decision as to guilt or innocence instead of a jury. The judge found Miklos not guilty of homicide, but guilty of VUFA 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 6105, which is the Pennsylvania statute which prohibits felons and people with other criminal convictions from possessing a firearm. Miklos had prior criminal convictions which prevented him from legally possessing a firearm.

On appeal, Miklos challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his conviction on the VUFA 6105 charge. Miklos argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. He argued that he lacked the requisite intent to possess the gun because he only came into possession of the gun during a struggle in which he was acting in self-defense. He argued that his brief possession of the firearm was merely to remove it from the decedent’s control, which he was justified in doing because the decedent was pointing it at him and trying to rob him.

The court rejected Miklos’ argument. The court agreed that Miklos was justified in grabbing the gun during the struggle in order to defend himself, but the problem for Miklos was that after the struggle, the gun fell to the ground and he picked it back up. The court opined that VUFA 6105 is a continuing offense and that Miklos’ possession of the gun could be justified for part of the time but not all of the time. If that is the case, then Miklos could still be convicted of the crime. Therefore, although Miklos’ initial possession of the gun during the struggle was justified under self-defense principles, the justification defense did not extend to Miklos’ decision to pick the gun back up, drive away, and dispose of it. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to affirm the conviction. Nonetheless, it is clear that under the right circumstances, justification and/or self-defense may provide a defense to gun charges even where the defendant is legally prohibited from possessing a gun.

If you are charged with the illegal possession of a gun or other weapons offense, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate your case, investigate for potential defenses, and provide you with all of the options. Our Philadelphia gun lawyers have successfully defended thousands of cases. Call 267-225-2545 now for a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session.