Quantcast

Commonwealth of PA v. Jensen

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Spats McGee, Jun 30, 2020.

  1. Spats McGee

    Spats McGee Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2012
    Messages:
    4,214
    Location:
    Arkansas
    If you read this forum regularly, you already know that the issue of modified guns comes up quite often. The issue typically escalates into some, erm, warmer responses, if not outright heated ones.

    So here's Commonwealth of PA v. Jensen, which is non-precedential, yet nonetheless interesting. The TLDR version is: The defendant below and appellant here, shot the woman with whom he was living. He claimed it was an accident. The trial court did not find him credible, at least in part because he had modified the trigger on the AR with which he shot her. The trial court apparently thought this undermined his claim that the shooting was accidental, given his 'intricate' knowledge of the firearm.
     

    Attached Files:

  2. jmorris

    jmorris Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2005
    Messages:
    15,289
    Not sure if installing a trigger gives one an intricate knowledge of firearms any more than owning a dremel makes one a gunsmith.

    I imagine
    had a lot to do with the decision.
     
    whm1974 likes this.
  3. Spats McGee

    Spats McGee Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2012
    Messages:
    4,214
    Location:
    Arkansas
    Clearly, owning a Dremel does not make one a gunsmith. We've seen some of the crimes committed with Dremels. That said, the court did specifically point to his installing the trigger as one factor in considering the appellant's claim that the shooting was accidental.
     
    CapnMac likes this.
  4. jmorris

    jmorris Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2005
    Messages:
    15,289
    That was my point. Dropping in a trigger gives one as much intricate knowledge of firearms as changing a tire gives one intricate knowledge of automobiles, yet crashes still happen.

    How many neglect/accidental discharges have occurred by people that are familiar with firearms and are just cleaning an “empty” one.

    Or how about simply holding the thing. Like “the only person in the room professional enough, that I know of, to carry a glock 40...(bang!)”



    “AD” wouldn’t be a term at all if people that know better didn’t ever have them.
     
  5. earlthegoat2

    earlthegoat2 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2008
    Messages:
    6,821
    Location:
    SE GA
    So did the victim die or at least suffer a wound consistent with someone who is supposedly so proficient with firearms?

    Seems like that could also be another factor considered in deciding whether it was accidental or purposeful. Then again, accidental shots can go anywhere....
     
  6. Spats McGee

    Spats McGee Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2012
    Messages:
    4,214
    Location:
    Arkansas
    First, yes, the victim died. It says so in the decision, which I attached to Post #1.

    Second, let's stick to the legal issues that this touches on. Let's not get sidetracked by "who's professional enough" or gun cleaning accident statistics. This is the Legal forum.

    What occurs to me is that we should note the interplay of factors here. This defendant had plenty of problems with is credibility (meth, going into hiding, mental illness, etc.), but familiarity with the firearm (from putting in his own trigger) was one of the things the trial court took into account in deciding not to believe his "it was a accident" story. It may have been the straw that broke the (credibility) camel's back. And since the trial court didn't believe him, neither did the appellate court. That's pretty normal, for an appellate court to give some deference to a trial court on matters of credibility.

    And no, I'm not saying that everybody has to carry a box-stock gun, or that they shouldn't ever modify their triggers, or anything of the sort. We should, however, be mindful of the kinds of things that come up in trials and how judges and juries might view them.
     
  7. dh1633pm

    dh1633pm Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2009
    Messages:
    2,419
    Location:
    Central New York
    Good point Mr Moderator. We should take into consideration what modifications we do to our firearms. Not everyone thinks that same or can be convinced to think as you do. What appears cool to you might be menacing to another. Your point is well taken.
     
  8. bearcreek

    bearcreek Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2009
    Messages:
    2,174
    Location:
    NE Ohio
    It seems that one of the "morals of the story" here is to realize that these decisions will very often be made by people who have little to zero knowledge of firearms or their use. The jury probably won't be your "peers" as far as firearms knowledge goes. Anyone with the tiniest bit of mechanical aptitude can be made to understand in minutes that modifying an AR trigger does not mean in the slightest that the modifier has an "intricate knowledge of firearms", and yet, here's this case.

    Perhaps a few more "morals" are that one should strive to maintain cordial relationships, responsibly take care of mental issues, and not flee the scene of a shooting to avoid being caught. Doing those things may very well make modifying an AR trigger no big deal at all.
     
    Dunross likes this.
  9. edwardware

    edwardware Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2010
    Messages:
    2,441
    That never gets old!
     
  10. jmorris

    jmorris Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2005
    Messages:
    15,289
    From a legal standpoint does being familiar with something make you more liable if an accident occurs than if you don’t know anything about it?

    Would a licensed surgeon be held more liable if his patient died on a operating table than a guy that doesn’t know what he is doing?

    As for this case, if I were a juror, this would have been worse for him than any modifications.

    I suppose he pled guilty to 3rd degree murder because his lawyer thought the same thing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
  11. rbernie
    • Contributing Member

    rbernie Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2004
    Messages:
    22,521
    Location:
    Norra Texas
    That's not the specific question here. The key seemed to be that Jensen claimed ignorance of how the trigger worked (e.g. this shooting was the result of an ND, and not something more nefarious) and yet had personally worked on the trigger in the past.

    It would seem to be difficult to assert that the weapon discharged unintentionally because the trigger acted in an unexpected way iff'n the trigger had been replaced / reworked by the shooter in the past.
     
  12. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2006
    Messages:
    11,951
    Location:
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    First, it's worthwhile to note that Jensen was only appealing his sentence, not his guilt. He had pleaded guilty to third degree murder (Commonwealth v. Jensen, J-S27043-20 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020), slip op at 3).

    Now let's look at exactly what the court said, Jensen, slip op at 8-9, emphasis added:

    So, as Spats pointed out:

    So the lesson of the case for our purposes is that a modification to a firearm can be a factor contributing to an adverse result.
     
  13. rbernie
    • Contributing Member

    rbernie Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2004
    Messages:
    22,521
    Location:
    Norra Texas
    More specifically, should this not read:

    It would seem that the modification was irrelevant to all other aspects of the defense outside of the specific claim of unfamiliarity, no?
     
    DairyVet likes this.
  14. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2006
    Messages:
    11,951
    Location:
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    Well, the modification not only eroded the claim of unfamiliarity, but the erosion of that claim also in general damaged the defendant's credibility. Or are you suggesting that the only way a modificatio of a gun could adversely affect a defendant would be if he claimed to be unfamiliar with how the gun worked?

    I think Spats captured it best when he wrote:
     
  15. rbernie
    • Contributing Member

    rbernie Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2004
    Messages:
    22,521
    Location:
    Norra Texas
    I'm simply suggesting that a modification was an issue specifically because it eroded a specific claim / defense, which in turn had a second order effect of eroding credibility. It would seem that, absent an intersection of the two notions (modifications and claims), the modified / unmodified state of the firearm is immaterial.

    But I'm sure that I'm getting something wrong here, and it is certainly true that nobody knows what claims will be pursued in advance... :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
  16. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2006
    Messages:
    11,951
    Location:
    California - San Francisco Bay Area
    That's pretty much the key.
     
  17. jmorris

    jmorris Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2005
    Messages:
    15,289
    I figured he took the deal and plead guilty to 3rd to avoid the punishment potential of 1st or 2nd because when you are arguing with someone, go retrieve a firearm, loaded, safety off, finger on the trigger and pointed at the person to whom you are arguing with, a judge or a jury might not be sympathetic to you claiming “it was an accident” and would have been an awful gamble for life in prison vs a max of 20 years.

    He for sure wouldn’t have wanted me on the jury, even if he had an unmodified firearm. Even if he had a 2oz benchrest trigger, it was the sum of his actions, take any one of them away to the point of actually pulling the trigger and the disaster could have been avoided. In fact if he actually had no intention of committing murder he actually put his own life at risk because she would have been with in her rights to defend herself at that point.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
    whm1974 likes this.
  18. Spats McGee

    Spats McGee Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2012
    Messages:
    4,214
    Location:
    Arkansas
    I agree with you on the erosion of credibility. The defendant had a whole host of credibility problems, but claiming that he was unfamiliar with a rifle on which he'd changed the trigger out may have tipped the first domino. Sort of a "well, if he lied about this, what else did he lie about?" situation.
     
    whm1974 and DairyVet like this.
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice