It is easy this day and age to believe violent crime is out of control. Take a look at any news story, the headlines of the evening paper, or listen to a radio news report and there will likely be several reports of violent crime in your area or nationally. The media is often attributed with over reporting these types of statistics. Do not let this scare you. In fact, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime has been steadily decreasing. (FBI Uniform Crime Report, Preliminary Semiannual Crime Report). This has been the trending since the 1970s.
Because it seems (at least in the news) violence is a first response to every problem in life, it is a common misconception among many people that it is, or should be, a crime to posses any item that is labeled, or by design, “inherently dangerous”. Agree? Disagree? Take a test: Think of a man standing on the front porch of his home holding a shotgun with it pointed in the air; walking through green space with a can of gas and matches; revving a chain saw with nothing nearby to cut down or trim. Seem like a criminal act is going on? Well, the answer is “no”. These are (probably) misconceived ideas and/or plain weird, but are they criminal? Again, NO.
In an effort to guide the citizenry it serves, the Indiana State and Federal appellate Courts have squarely addressed these very issues. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that possessing a machine gun by itself is not a violent crime. United States of America v. Micahel L. Brock, 11-3473 (2013). Furthermore, it is not a crime to be around a dangerous item. In Malone v. State of Indiana, 882 N.E.2d 784, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that police officers could not seize a handgun from an individual who was standing on his porch, without a search warrant or without a reasonable basis for believing that a crime was about to be committed, which is an exception to a search warrant signed by a neutral magistrate or judge for a police officer to search, known as “exigent circumstances”. Merely having a police 911 call about a man on his porch having a gun did not give the responding police officers the right to enter the property, arrest, detain or remove the weapon from the person on his or her private property.
Inherently dangerous items/materials only become illegal as used and a crime is committed when they cross the threshold to inappropriate or dangerous operation or use; and police officers can only act to search if they otherwise believe that criminal activity is afoot. Understanding this important distinction aids citizens following the law and police officers all of whom operate in areas with these items where the atmosphere may be politically or socially charged or just misunderstood. Being weird, or doing strange things, is not a crime. Nevertheless, doing upsetting things for the sake of doing them may not be crime, but remember that does not make it right to do so. Knowing this makes you a contributing member of society who tries to understand and follow our laws, whether you are a citizen, police officer, judge, prosecutor or member of a jury. We are all on the same side to make our society safe and free.
We hope this blog post has helped you to understand a little bit more about violent crimes and inherently dangerous items and what is illegal and criminal related to such. If it has done so, this blog post has met its purposes. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice civil and criminal law throughout the State of Indiana and consult nationally on gun law. This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou.