The short but important Michigan Supreme Court decision in People v. Stevens holds that an inoperable gun cannot be the basis of a felonious assault conviction.
What Happened in the Case
The Defendant Stevens pointed a starter pistol at another person. He was charged with felonious assault under MCL 705.82.
The firing pin of the gun was filed down to the point where the gun would not fire.
Felonious assault is an assault made by a gun, revolver, pistol…or other dangerous weapon.
The Defendant argued the gun he had could not be defined as a gun because it was inoperable, and it was not a dangerous weapon because it was inoperable. The trial court agreed, the Court of Appeals reversed, and the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court.
A “firearm” is defined as any weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by using explosives, gas or air as a means of propulsion. In this case, the pistol could not fire. Therefore, the pistol cannot not be considered a firearm.
Further, there is nothing in the case facts that suggests the pistol is a “dangerous weapon” other than the fact that it is a pistol.
The Court disagreed with the Court of Appeal’s reasoning that the victim’s reasonable apprehension can establish the element of an assault in a felonious assault prosecution.
Lessons fr@om the Case
This case, and others like it, establish the “inoperable firearm” defense to felonious assault charges. The defense can be applied to other cases involving guns and pistols. The case leads to a jury instruction regarding guns that won’t work.
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Criminal Defense Lawyer.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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This case is captioned as People v. Stevens 409 Mich. 564 (1980), 297 N.W.2d 120
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