ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals overturned a concealed weapons charge against a Washington County man Tuesday, saying tools cannot always be classified as weapons.
Daniel Ruffus Nipper was sentenced to three years in prison after police found two wooden poles, a small hatchet, a baseball bat and a 5-inch buck knife in his car during a traffic stop.
But his attorney argued that since the state could not prove that Nipper intended to use the items as weapons, he did not violate Maryland law. A three- judge panel of the appellate court agreed in an opinion written by Judge Andrew Sonner, saying the state’s argument otherwise was “approaching the absurd.”
“A contrary holding … would make all drivers of automobiles in violation of the law for concealing flashlights, metal tools, emergency flares or countless other objects that could be used as weapons but that drivers may have readily available to assist in maintaining an automobile or for work or recreation,” the opinion said.
Nipper was pulled over for speeding by Hagerstown Police and arrested for driving with a suspended license. When officers inspected the car, they found the poles, axe, bat and knife under the passenger seat and in the trunk. They charged him with three counts of carrying concealed weapons.
In court, Nipper claimed the items had been left in the car when he helped his sister move. He said the car did not belong to him and he did not know the items were in it.
“You have to have circumstances that would suggest that I have this weapon for this person,” Assistant Public Defender George Burns said Tuesday. “If you have something that can be used as a weapon but there are no circumstances, then that’s not enough.”
The state argued that because Nipper was pulled over at 5 a.m. and he had a pole easily accessible, between the driver’s seat and the door, he might have planned to hurt someone.
“It was concealed but could be grabbed as a weapon,” said Kathy Graeff, deputy chief of the criminal appeals division for the Attorney General’s Office. “That and the fact that there was a buck knife and hatchet in the car permitted the jury to find the intent.”
But the court said convicting Nipper would be stretching the law and would mean people who have simple objects could face jail time for carrying concealed weapons.
“The state’s construction produces results so closely approaching the absurd that we do not consider it to be the construction intended by the General Assembly,” said the opinion.
“The carpenter who carries screwdrivers, drills, chisels and one or more hammers in a closed tool box is carrying concealed, potential daggers and clubs and would violate (the law),” said the opinion, quoting an earlier decision on the issue. “The woman who affixes her hat with a hat pin, covered by the hat and her hair, is carrying, concealed, a potential stiletto, and would violate (the law). Persons who wear belts around their waists, covered by coats, jackets or sweaters, carry concealed, potential garrotes and would violate (the law).”
While the court overturned the concealed weapons charge, Nipper still faces punishment for speeding and driving without a license, Burns said.