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Pennsylvania’s law barring possession of a weapon on school property is not a strict liability offense, a Commonwealth Court panel has ruled in an apparent case of first impression. In Bolden v. Chartiers Valley School District, the majority held that although Section 912 of the Crimes Code does not specifically include a mens rea requirement, the Chartiers Valley School Board could not find that bus garage supervisor Charles Bolden had violated the law when he inadvertently brought a loaded, .40-caliber Glock with him to work one day in the fall of 2003. “The legislative history is unclear about whether a mens rea element exists in Section 912,” Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote, adding later, “[Such] factors tend to suggest that Section 912 is not a strict liability offense, particularly because the General Assembly did not explicitly state its intent to make it one… . Because Bolden did not knowingly or recklessly possess his gun on school grounds, he could not have been convicted of violating Section 912.” Pellegrini was joined by Senior Judge Jess S. Jiuliante. Judge Renee L. Cohn Jubelirer filed a concurring opinion. According to Pellegrini’s opinion, the bus garage area at which Bolden worked, supervising over 60 employees, consisted of three buildings separated from a classroom building by a fence. One day in late August 2003, Bolden, who had accrued an excellent employment record during his year on the job, drove his motorcycle to work and parked it in the bus garage. For reasons not made clear in the opinion, another employee opened a pouch on the side of Bolden’s motorcycle and found the handgun. School district officials were soon notified. An assistant superintendent later came to the garage to inspect Bolden’s motorcycle. Before she could do so, according to the opinion, Bolden surreptitiously removed the clip from his gun and pretended it was not loaded. The district’s superintendent later arrived, and Bolden told him that the gun was not loaded. A couple weeks after the incident, Bolden was brought before a school district hearing on charges of violating the School Code law. He explained that he had left his gun in the pouch the night before the incident and forgotten it was there, according to the opinion. He also admitted that the weapon had been loaded, a fact that he said he lied about because he was worried about losing his job. The examiner at that hearing found that Bolden had violated Section 912, and recommended he be suspended from his duties without pay for four months. The school board adopted that recommendation. Bolden appealed to the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed the school board’s decision. “Because he forgot the gun in his motorcycle, Bolden argues that he could not have either knowingly brought the gun onto school grounds or recklessly brought the gun onto school grounds as those terms are defined [in Pennsylvania's Crimes Code],” Pellegrini wrote. No Pennsylvania case has specifically addressed whether Section 912 has a mens rea requirement or is a strict liability offense, according to the opinion. The penalty for violating Section 912 — up to five years’ imprisonment — is “strikingly severe,” Pellegrini wrote. It was undisputed that Bolden had not intentionally brought his gun onto school property, and as such, he should not have been found in violation of Section 912, the majority concluded. But a criminal violation is not necessary to establish violation of laws found in the School Code, Pellegrini wrote. Even though the school district that employed him did not, at the time of the incident, have a written policy concerning employees bringing guns onto school property, common sense could have dictated that such an action could result in disciplinary action. “Bolden does not need a written policy to understand, as a licensed gun owner, that bringing a gun onto school property in a post-Columbine world, whether intentionally or unintentionally, could be grounds for discipline,” Pellegrini wrote. Because the judges reversed as to his violating of Section 912, Bolden’s case has been remanded to the school board for determination of whether it wants to reduce its four-months-without-pay penalty. In her concurring opinion, Cohn Jubelirer wrote that Bolden’s violations of the School Code in and of themselves supported the school board’s suspension. Bolden’s attorney, solo practitioner Peter Suwak of Washington, said his client has served his suspension and is back on the job. “We were grateful that the court applied a rational legal analysis to the issue,” Suwak said. The school district was represented in the matter by attorneys from Maiello Brungo & Maiello in Pittsburgh. A call to the firm seeking comment was not immediately returned.

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