In a lengthy decision published today, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that, when charging a defendant with unlawful possession of a firearm (M.G.L. c. 269, § 10), the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have a valid license to carry.

Up to today’s ruling, a defendant charged with unlawfully possessing a gun could present a valid Massachusetts firearms license as an affirmative defense.

However, in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the SJC is now shifting the burden onto prosecutors to prove that no valid gun license exists when charging an individual under M.G.L. c. 269, § 10.

In the opinion, the SJC writes,

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen…in which the Court held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a firearm in public, our existing precedent that licensure is an affirmative defense, and not an element of the offense the Commonwealth is required to prove, must be revisited. Because possession of a firearm in public is constitutionally protected conduct, in order to convict a defendant of unlawful possession of a firearm, due process requires the Commonwealth prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not have a valid firearms license.

The full text of the opinion is attached below: