Temporary Lawful Possession of Weapon Defense Disproved/Justification Defense in Context of Criminal Possession of a Weapon Explained
The Fourth Department determined the evidence was sufficient to disprove defendant’s defense of temporary and lawful possession of a weapon, and explained how the justification defense relates to criminal possession of a weapon:
Even if, as defendant contends, he originally acquired the gun by disarming his alleged assailant in the course of a robbery, we conclude that the evidence is legally sufficient to establish that he thereafter possessed it with the requisite unlawful intent … . After evading his alleged robber, defendant returned to the scene of the robbery with the gun drawn and fired five shots, one of which struck his alleged assailant in the leg. Defendant then regained possession of his property, a duffel bag containing $27,000 in cash, and fled upon the approach of the police. Such conduct is “utterly at odds with [defendant’s] claim of innocent possession . . . temporarily and incidentally [resulting] from . . . disarming a wrongful possessor”… .
Defendant further contends that he had no duty to retreat, but was justified in acting as he did, because the People failed to prove that he could have retreated with complete safety. We reject that contention. It is well settled that the defense of justification, which involves the “justifiable use of physical force” (Penal Law § 35.05 …), does not apply to criminal possession of a weapon … . Thus, the “duty to retreat” rule, which applies to the defense of justification in connection with the use of deadly physical force (see § 35.15  [a]), is not relevant here. Nonetheless, justification is relevant to a defendant’s intent in using a weapon. In other words, “[t]he use of a firearm to engage in conduct that is justifiable under the law is not unlawful. Thus, an intent to use a firearm against another justifiably is not an intent to use it unlawfully” … . Here, however, the evidence is legally sufficient to establish that defendant “possessed the firearm with the intent to use it against another unlawfully and not solely with the intent to use it justifiably”… . People v Bailey, 1080, 4th Dept 11-8-13