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State v. Knaeble

October 29, 2002


Itasca County District Court File No. K00792

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Willis, Judge, and Minge, Judge.


1. A felon may be convicted of illegal possession of a firearm under Minn. Stat. §á609.165, subd. 1b(a), without proof that the firearm was operable at the time of the possession.

2. The general statement of policy in Minn. Stat. §á624.711 against legislative regulation of shotguns and other specified firearms does not bar prosecution under a specific statutory prohibition against possession of such firearms by convicted felons.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge



This appeal is from a conviction of felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a) (2000), and terroristic threats, in violation of Minn. Stat. §á609.713, subd. 1 (2000). Appellant Ray Knaeble challenges the application of the felon-in-possession statute to his conduct and the sufficiency of the evidence to support the terroristic-threats conviction. Because we conclude that the felon-in-possession statute may properly be applied to possession of an inoperable shotgun and that the evidence is sufficient to prove appellant committed terroristic threats, we affirm.


On April 23, 2001, two Itasca County deputy sheriffs responded to a call reporting a domestic disturbance at the residence of appellant and his brother, Paul. Deputy Ryan Gunderson testified that Paul Knaeble met them in the driveway and told them that appellant was "busting up the house" and had broken windows and a door. The officers asked if there was a gun in the house, and Paul reported that appellant had a shotgun in the house.

Deputy Gunderson testified that Paul also reported that appellant had "threatened him about chopping his head off" and that Paul said he felt threatened. Gunderson testified that after entering the house they saw appellant, who had been in an outbuilding on the property, approach the house. When appellant entered the house, he was upset about a dent in a small gas can, which he blamed on Paul. He threw the gas can at his brother, knocking a baseball cap off Paul's head, and told him not to wear a hat in the house. Gunderson testified that Deputy Johnson then told appellant that he was under arrest. Appellant, however, picked up an object from the kitchen table and "held it above his head in a threatening-type manner." Deputy Gunderson thought at first that the object was a knife, although at trial he identified a hammer as the object appellant had grabbed. The two officers responded by drawing their weapons and ordering appellant to drop the hammer.

Deputy Gunderson testified that appellant eventually put the hammer down. When he continued to ignore their stated intent to arrest him, however, the officers grabbed appellant and handcuffed him. Appellant told them they had no right to arrest him or to take his gun. Gunderson testified that appellant said that he had received the shotgun as payment from someone who owed him money.

Deputy Robin Johnson testified that when they encountered Paul Knaeble in the driveway, Paul reported that appellant had broken a window on a car, as well as breaking things in the house. Johnson also testified that Paul said appellant had made several oral threats, in particular a threat "to chop his head off." Johnson testified that Paul appeared to be concerned about it, although not terrified.

Deputy Johnson testified that Paul told him that appellant had a pellet gun and a double-barreled shotgun in the house. Johnson testified that he asked Paul to take him inside the house and show him the shotgun. Paul led him to the gun, which was "leaning against a wall in the hallway," in plain view of anyone inside the house. After Johnson did a cursory search of the house, which revealed no other weapons, appellant entered, blaming Paul for the gas-can dent and trying to knock Paul's cap off. At that point, Johnson testified, he told appellant that he was under arrest, and appellant said "something to the effect, like hell I am."

Paul Knaeble testified that he could not remember whether appellant had threatened him. When confronted with his statement to police, however, Paul conceded that he told police that appellant said he "was going to chop my head off or something like that." Paul claimed this was said "a little jokingly" and possibly in reference to a statement made at another time.

Before trial, appellant moved to dismiss the felon-in-possession charge on the ground that the shotgun did not qualify as a "firearm" under the felon-in-possession statute because it was an antique and because it was inoperable. The prosecution presented the testimony of a local sporting-goods merchant, who testified that the shotgun had been manufactured sometime between 1880 and 1920 and was inoperable "in a traditional sense" because the hammer springs were broken or had been removed. He testified, however, that the firing pins on the gun were in place and that the gun could be fired if the hammer were manually struck with sufficient force. The store owner ...

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