The Minnesota Supreme Court this week greatly expanded the prohibition of carrying a pistol while intoxicated. Mr. Prigge was stopped in a motor vehicle for suspicion of driving while under the influence. A search of the vehicle revealed that there was a handgun in the center console. Prigge was subsequently charged with DWI and carrying a pistol while under the influence pursuant to Minnesota Statute § 624.7142 subd. 1(4) (2016) Mr. Prigge successfully argued to the District Court that the charge of carrying a firearm “about his clothes or person” while under the influence of alcohol should be suppressed because a gun in the center console was not “about his clothes or person.” The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the charge reasoning that there needed to be a “physical nexus” between a person’s clothes or person and the pistol. The Minnesota Supreme Court however disagreed. They determined that this analysis ignored the word “about” in the statute. About is defined as “in the vicinity” or “in the immediate neighborhood.” Using these dictionary definitions of the word “about” the Supreme Court concluded that in the context of the statute that prohibits carrying a pistol while intoxicated boils down to having the pistol either on one’s person or “in one’s personal vicinity defined as within arm’s reach.
The practical effect of this ruling is that intoxicated drivers will no longer be able to argue that merely because a pistol is no longer physically possessed by him or her they are not subject to the statutory prohibition. The question now will be whether a driver can gain immediate access to the firearm. The Supreme Court cited favorably cases from other jurisdictions with similar statutes that suggest that firearms under passenger seats and in glove compartments, that may not be technically within arm’s reach, could very well be considered “on or about the person’s clothes or person” for the purposes of Minnesota Statute § 624.7142 subd. 1(4) (2016).