Author: LegalEase Solutions
Whether a person may be charged with a felony under 18 § 6111(g)(4)(ii) and a misdemeanor under 18 § 4903(a)(1) if the alleged false statement was made unknowingly and unintentionally?
Per 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6111(g)(4)(ii), a person commits a felony if he makes a materially false written statement on any form published by a Federal or State agency. Also, under 18 § 4903(a)(1), it is a misdemeanor to make a false statement in an official proceeding. The Firearms Transaction Over-the-counter form defines ‘prohibited persons’. It includes a person who has been adjudicated mentally defective or has been committed to a mental institution. However, there are certain exceptions to this definition. A person adjudicated as mentally defective is not prohibited from sale or purchase of firearms if he falls within the exceptions.
Additionally, when the culpability sufficient to establish material element of an offense is not prescribed by law, it is established if the person acts knowingly, intentionally or recklessly. A person cannot be charged with felony or misdemeanor if he acted unknowingly and unintentionally.
Section 302(a) provides:
(a) Minimum requirements of culpability.-Except as provided in Section 305 of this title (relating to limitations on scope of culpability requirements), a person is not guilty of an offense unless he acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently, as the law may require, with respect to each material element of the offense.
18 Pa.C.S. § 302(a).
“[I]n some statutes the General Assembly has omitted any requirement that prohibited acts be done knowingly or intentionally whereas in others it has made it unlawful to do other acts only if they were performed knowingly.” Com. v. Scolieri, 571 Pa. 658, 667, 813 A.2d 672, 677 (2002). “[T]he omission of the words ‘knowingly’ or ‘intentionally’ from a statute is significant and ‘indicates a legislative intent to eliminate both knowledge and criminal intent as necessary’ elements in a prosecution of those offenses.” Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Koczwara, 397 Pa. 575, 155 A.2d 825, 829 (1959)). “The converse of this rule is also true. The inclusion of the words knowingly or intentionally in a statute indicates a legislative intent to require the inclusion of those mens rea requirements as necessary ingredients of such offenses.” Id.
In the instant case, the concerned law includes the terms ‘knowingly’ and ‘intentionally’. It is clear that the statute requires mens rea as an essential ingredient of the offenses. The defendant answered ‘no’ the question at issue in the firearm application form unknowingly and unintentionally. He was under the reasonable belief that an involuntary commitment to a mental institution several years ago would not be a determining factor in the purchase of a firearm. A statement made unknowingly and unintentionally lacks the element of mens rea and should not be regarded as a false statement for the purpose of felony and misdemeanor.
“It is well settled that as mens rea, or intent, is a subjective frame of mind, it is of necessity difficult of direct proof.” Com. v. Cosentino, 850 A.2d 58, 63 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2004) (citing Commonwealth v. Roche, 783 A.2d 766 (Pa.Super.2001), petition for allowance of appeal denied, 568 Pa. 736, 798 A.2d 1289 (2002)).
“If a person does not know what he or she is doing, it is hard to conceive how that individual possessed the required mens rea to commit a crime. In fact, the statutory definitions of criminal intent regarding acting intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently foreclose a person from acting in any of those manners when he or she is not conscious at all of what he or she is doing.” Com. v. Andre, 2011 PA Super 65, 17 A.3d 951, 960 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2011).
“In practical terms, if a defendant did not know what he was doing when he acted, he could not have known that he was performing the wrongful act charged as a crime.” Id. (citing Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735, 126 S.Ct. 2709, 165 L.Ed.2d 842 (2006)). Nevertheless, it is possible that an individual has the necessary mens rea when he or she knows what he or she is doing, but does not know that it is wrong. Id. There may be situations where “the defendant intends to commit the act; however, he does not believe that the action is wrong.” Id.
“[W]here the Commonwealth establishes each of the elements of the crime, including the mens rea element, and the defendant cannot prove that he did not know what he was doing, the jury still must determine whether he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” Id.
In Com. v. Turner, 70 Pa. D. & C.4th 19, 20 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2004), the Defendant was charged with violating 18 Pa.C.S. §6111(g)(4). The central focus of the case was that the Defendant stated in a firearm application form that he had not been previously adjudicated mentally defective when he actually was committed involuntarily under Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act. The Defendant did not argue that he was never involuntarily committed. The argument revolved around the definition of ‘mental institution’ in the firearms application. The Defendant believed that the medical centre where he had been admitted did not fit within the definition of ‘mental institution’ in the firearm application and he was not required to state the same in the application form. The court held that absent any evidence, the Commonwealth cannot establish that the Defendant knowingly and intentionally made a false statement in the firearms application.
Similarly, in the instant matter, the Defendant reasonably believed that his commitment to a mental institution many years ago did not require him to state it in the firearm application. Thus it cannot be said that the Defendant knowingly and intentionally made a false statement.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302
Under this section the term ‘knowingly’ is defined as:
A person acts knowingly with respect to a material element of an offense:
(i) if the element involves the nature of his conduct or the attendant circumstances, he is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist; and
(ii) if the element involves a result of his conduct, he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302.
The term ‘intentionally’ is defined as:
A person acts intentionally with respect to a material element of an offense when:
(i) if the element involves the nature of his conduct or a result thereof, it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result; and
(ii) if the element involves the attendant circumstances, he is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302.
Section 302(b)(3) provides as follows: “A person acts recklessly with respect to a material element of an offense when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 302(b)(3)). “The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and intent of the actor’s conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation.” Id.
“[S]ection 302(c) specifies that ‘[w]hen the culpability sufficient to establish a material element of an offense is not prescribed by law, such element is established if a person acts intentionally, knowingly or recklessly with respect thereto.’” (quoting 18 Pa.C.S. § 302(c)) Com. v. Moran, 2010 PA Super 152, 5 A.3d 273, 283 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) aff’d, 104 A.3d 1136 (Pa. 2014).
Here, culpability with regard to material element of an offense is not established as the person has acted unknowingly and unintentionally.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6111
Any person, purchaser or transferee commits a felony of the third degree if, in connection with the purchase, delivery or transfer of a firearm . . . , he knowingly and intentionally:
(ii) makes any materially false written statement, including a statement on any form promulgated by Federal or State agencies.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6111.
“18 Pa.C.S.A. 6105(c)(4) specifically prohibits a person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution from possessing, manufacturing, selling or transferring firearms. Commonwealth v. Hanna, 77 Pa. D. & C.4th 34, 35 (Pa. County Ct. 2005)
“In 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105 (Persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms), our General Assembly identifies the persons not permitted in this Commonwealth to possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture a firearm. Section 6105(a) provides the basic prohibition.” Commonwealth v. Baxter, 956 A.2d 465, 471 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008). “Subsection 6105(b), in turn, enumerates 37 specific criminal offenses (in addition to any equivalent offense), which render the person subject to the prohibition contained in Section 6105(a). Section 6105(c) further identifies ‘criteria’ that render the person subject to the prohibition in Section 6105(a).” Id.
It is noteworthy that “Section 6105(c) provides that the following persons are subject to the prohibition: a fugitive from justice (6105(c)(1)); a person convicted of an offense under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, or any equivalent federal or state statute that may be punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding two years (6105(c)(2)); a person adjudicated as an incompetent or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution (6105(c)(4)); an illegal alien (6105(c)(5)); and a person who has been convicted of an offense related to domestic violence (6105(c)(6) and (9)).” Id.
“A potential gun purchaser is put on notice by Section 6105 as to who is prohibited from possessing a firearm in this Commonwealth.” Id. Therefore, “when a prospective purchaser completes an application in connection with the attempted acquisition of a firearm he knows, or should know, that if he or she is such a prohibited person, as defined by Section 6105, the application will be denied.” Id.
“[A]ny knowingly false statement given by a person in connection with the purchase of a firearm – even if given in response to the questions on the federal form – is ‘material’ and would subject that person to prosecution.” Id.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4903
A person who makes a false statement under oath or equivalent affirmation, or swears or affirms the truth of such a statement previously made, when he does not believe the statement to be true is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree if:(1) the falsification occurs in an official proceeding.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4903.
“The question of whether criminal intent is required is one of statutory construction “to be determined from the language of the statute in the light of its manifest purpose and design.” (quoting Holsten v. Haverford Township, 698 A.2d 174, 175 (Pa.Cmwlth.1997) Com. v. Sanico, Inc., 830 A.2d 621, 627 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2003).
There are exceptions to the definition of prohibited persons in the ATF form. A person who has been adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution is not prohibited if –
- the person was adjudicated by a department or agency of the Federal government;
- a. the adjudication or commitment for mental incompetency was set aside/expunged by the committing agency;
- the person has been fully released or discharged from all mandatory treatment;
- the person was found by the agency to no longer suffer from the mental health condition that served as the basis for the initial adjudication.
The general law is that a person may be charged with a felony under 18 § 6111(g)(4)(ii) and a misdemeanor under 18 § 4903(a)(1) if he makes a false statement on any form by the Federal or State agencies or in any official proceeding. However, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302 contains certain minimum requirements for culpability. A person is not guilty of an offense if he acted unknowingly, unintentionally or recklessly. Also, a person who has been adjudicated as mentally defective is not a prohibited person per the ATF form if he falls within the exceptions mentioned in the form.