Defendant Leonard E. Hatch, a resident of Erving, Massachusetts, was convicted by a jury of two high misdemeanors: possessing a rifle and possessing a shotgun in an automobile without a New Jersey firearms purchaser identification card, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:151-41.
At the close of the State's case defense counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal. The court reserved on the motion. Defense counsel renewed the motion at the end of the case and the court again reserved, declaring that the motion would be treated as a motion for judgment of acquittal made after the jury is discharged, pursuant to the provisions of R. 3:18-2. This court now decides defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict of guilty.
On March 2, 1971, defendant, driving an automobile with Massachusetts registration, was stopped by police officers on New Jersey State Highway Route 22 because of a motor
vehicle violation for which he was subsequently convicted in the Bound Brook Municipal Court. One of the officers saw the butts of what appeared to be two firearms under a large quantity of clothing piled in the rear seat of the automobile. Investigation revealed that an operable rifle and shotgun were in fact on the back seat under defendant's clothing. Cartridges for the firearms were also found in the automobile.
Defendant told the officer that he had a valid Massachusetts hunting license and was a member of a gun club in that State. He said that he was traveling from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania in the hopes of finding employment in the heavy construction field and had his guns with him because he intended to engage in hunting during his stay in that state. The officer asked for a New Jersey firearms identification card and when the same was not forthcoming placed defendant under arrest for carrying a firearm in a motor vehicle without the requisite permit.
Defendant was kept in jail from March 2 until March 24, 1971. On June 28, 1971 an indictment was handed down in three counts charging the possession of the rifle, the possession of the shotgun and possession of a dangerous knife in the automobile. The jury found defendant not guilty of possession of a dangerous knife in an automobile.
During the trial defendant's Massachusetts firearms identification card was introduced in evidence. Massachusetts law requires that firearms carried in an automobile shall be under the direct control of the person, Massachusetts General Laws C. 140, § 131C. "So long as a licensed firearm, whether it be used for hunting or any other proper purpose, is under direct control of licensee when carried in a vehicle, no law is violated." Op. Mass. Atty. Gen., March 4, 1964, p. 233.
No evidence was offered during the trial that defendant's conduct or mode of possession would have violated the law of his place of domicile in any way.
The key issue to be decided in this case is whether conduct on the part of a citizen domiciled in a state other than
New Jersey which would be perfectly legal conduct in the state of his domicile can result in a conviction of a high misdemeanor in the State of New Jersey when it is performed while ...