The New Hampshire Supreme Court was forced to clarify the meaning of “loaded” in a gun case which was ultimately thrown out earlier this month.
Oriol Dor was arrested for carrying a loaded gun – even though it did not contain a magazine or even a single bullet in the chamber.
The loaded gun definition case began in May when police officers discovered an unloaded semi-automatic .40-caliber pistol in Oriol Dor’s car. While a magazine was sitting next to the gun in the glove compartment, it was not inside the firearm and the pistol’s chamber was empty. Despite the obvious unloaded nature of the gun, Dor was still charged and ultimately convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. The “knowingly carrying a loaded pistol” charge carries a $2,000 fine and a penalty of up to one year in prison.
Dor’s attorney rightfully argued that since the semi-automatic .40-caliber gun was not loaded, no crime had been committed. New Hampshire state laws prohibits citizens from carrying a loaded gun concealed on their person or in their vehicle without a license.
The statute reads: “A loaded pistol or revolver shall include any pistol or revolver with a magazine, cylinder, chamber, or clip in which there are loaded cartridges.” The word “with” posed a problem for Dor. The prosecuting attorney argued that because the magazine was near the .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol it was actually indeed “with” the gun and constituted a crime.
Dor understandably appealed the gun charge and ultimately found himself in front of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Common sense prevailed in the state’s highest court. The state Supreme Court justices resulted to an old school educational tactic – they brought out a dictionary and looked up the words “with” and “loaded.” Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus defines “with” as: “denoting nearness, agreement, or connection.” New Hampshire police officers and the prosecuting attorney interpreted the meaning to prove that the magazine was actually with the gun because it was near it in the glove compartment.
Dor’s saving grace came when the term “loaded” destroyed the state’s illogical gun possession charge. The same edition of Webster’s defined loaded as: “containing an explosive charge.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court added that “loaded” is the past participle of the word “load,” which is obviously a verb. The definition for the word “load?” “To put a load on or in a carrier, device, machine, or container. Specifically, to insert the charge or cartridge in the chamber of a firearm.”
The justices also noted in their ruling that words and phrases are not read in isolation, but in context with the entire statutory intention. The justices refused to expand the definition of the word “loaded” to the broad nature that the prosecuting attorney and lower court wanted.
“Under the State’s reading,” the justices ruled, “a person of ordinary intelligence would have to guess at how ‘near’ a pistol or revolver must be to a loaded magazine or clip to constitute a violation of [the law]. In contrast, interpreting a ‘loaded pistol or revolver’ as a pistol or revolver containing a cartridge in any position from which it can be fired eliminates the uncertainty: a pistol or revolver either contains a cartridge in such a position or it does not.”
While Dor will not be going to jail, he likely had to spend far more than the fine which accompanied the gun charge to refute the ridiculous charge which hinged upon the accepted definition of the words “with” and “loaded.” The time and money the New Hampshire legal system spent dealing with this outlandish case could surely have been put to better use elsewhere.