Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was convicted of carrying a gun in New York State. Appellant argued that because he was a corrections officer, he mistakenly believed that he fell within the statutory exemption for peace officers.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. By New York State Statute, a mistake of law defense can only be founded upon an official statement of the law contained in the statute or other enactment, or an interpretation of the statute or law by a public servant, agency or body legally charged or empowered with the responsibility of enforcing/administering the statute.
Appellant, a Federal corrections officer was arrested in Manhattan, New York for carrying a gun. The statute in question exempted “peace officers” from the prohibition against carrying firearms. Another statute defined peace officers as correction officers of any state correctional facility or of any penal correctional facility. The trial court dismissed the charge. The Appellate Court reversed and thereafter Appellant was convicted when the judge refused to instruct that Appellant’s reasonable belief that he fell within the statutory definition would be a defense.
Issue. Whether Appellant can assert a mistake of law defense in this action.
By New York State Statute, a mistaken belief can only be founded upon an official statement of the law contained in the statute or other enactment or an interpretation of the statute or law by a public servant, agency or body legally charged or empowered with the responsibility of enforcing/administering the statute.
Strong public policy reasons mandate a rejection of Appellant’s contention that his own mistaken interpretation of the law should allow him to successfully assert a mistake of law defense.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
Accordingly, the underlying statute never in fact authorized the defendant's conduct; the defendant only thought that the statutory exemptions permitted his conduct when, in fact, the primary statute clearly forbade his conduct. View Full Point of Law
The dissent argued that the majority’s interpretation allowed a man who has committed an act which is criminal only because it violates a statute to be punished even though Appellant, in complete good faith, committed the act under a reasonable interpretation of the statue. The dissent furthered argued that the majority disregarded legislative intent to modernize the statutory scheme and incorporate this defense to be used in the manner Appellant attempted to use it. Discussion.
The Court focused on the wording of the statute as only allowing two avenues to use the defense of mistake of law. The Court viewed Appellant as arguing that if he could find another reasonable interpretation of a criminal statute, he should be able to use the mistake of law defense. The Court ruled that if they allowed Appellant to do this, it would open the floodgates for others to contrive and make up explanations that would allow them to take advantage of the mistake of law defe