The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Goslin, No. 1114 MDA 2015 (February 16, 2017), holding that the language of the statute prohibiting the possession of knives on school property, though broad, is unambiguous, and that Goslin possessed his pocketknife on school grounds for an “other lawful purpose.”

Goslin had attended a school conference for his child and arrived at the location directly from work. He had in his pocket a 3-4 inch pocketknife that he uses not only at work as a carpenter, but also to sharpen pencils, whittle sticks with his sons, and “open tuna cans when my wife forgets to pack me a tuna can opener.”

Earlier this year, we posted about the PA Superior Court’s ruling of Commonwealth v. Goslin, No. 114 MDA 2015 (July 6, 2016), which held that, unless a person is on school property in a capacity that necessitates his possession of a knife, he is in violation of the statute prohibiting the possession of any knives on school property.

On September 8, 2016, Reargument was granted by the Superior Court and, on December 13, 2016, an en banc panel of the Court heard Reargument on the matter of whether the trial court abused its discretion, committed an error of law, or violated Goslin’s constitutional rights when it found that the defense of “other lawful purpose” for possessing a knife on school property did not apply in Goslin’s case.

The en banc panel concluded that, contrary to the prior decisions made in this case, the plain meaning of the statute at issue provides two separate defenses: possessing and using a weapon on school property “in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity” as well as possessing “for other lawful purpose.” Therefore, at issue in the instant case was whether Goslin possessed the pocketknife “for [an] other lawful purpose.” Additionally, for purposes of the instant case, the plain meaning of the phrase “other lawful purpose” is an aim or goal different from, or in addition to, an aim or goal described in the first clause of the statute, i.e., in conjunction with “a lawful supervised school activity or course.”

Calling the “other lawful purpose” language a “catchall provision,” the en banc panel then concluded that this language does not restrict the defense provided in the statute; rather, it expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of the statute, regardless of whether it is school-related.

Goslin’s Judgment of Sentence was, accordingly, vacated and a new trial ordered.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-E03006-16o%20-%2010299527916074935.pdf?cb=1

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