Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Supreme Judicial Court Rules on Defense of License in Joint Venture Firearms Offense Cases


In October of 2007, Delanie Humphries carried out an ambush attack on a man in Worcester, Massachusetts. Yesterday, Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, ruled on Mr. Humphries’ appeal of his 2010 conviction of charges in connection with the attack. The Supreme Judicial Court’s rulings are a notable development in Massachusetts’ law on firearms offenses, as well as criminal law in general.

The facts that led to Mr. Humphries’ arrest occurred on October 26, 2007. According to the, victims Luis Acevedo and Andrew P. Robinson, had attended a birthday party for Shaonte Bottom and Mr. Robinson’s 4-year-old daughter. At the party, a guest named Monique Kumah, who is also the girlfriend of Mr. Humphries, was asked to leave. Sometime later, Mr. Humphries arrived near the house, and an altercation began between he and Mr. Acevedo. At some point during the altercation, Mr. Humphries’s called out the words “Bobo,” and Mr. Humphries’ cousin came from behind a tree with a handgun, opening fire.

Mr. Humphries, Mr. Acevedo, and the shooter scattered, and Mr. Acevedo, now joined by Mr. Robinson, got into a vehicle parked nearby. Shots were fired at the vehicle, but no one was injured.

According to the recent Supreme Judicial Court Opinion in Commonwealth v. Delanie Humphries, Mr. Humphries was ultimately found guilty by a jury on the counts of carrying a firearm without a license, carrying a loaded firearm without a license, and possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card. The charges against him were related to the theory of joint venture liability, under which a joint venturer is deemed liable for the underlying offense, if his coventurer actually commits the crime. Thus, in this case, Mr. Humphries did not actually possess the firearm that was used in the shooting, but he was found guilty under the joint venture theory.

Mr. Humphries argued several issues on appeal, including that his counsel had failed to introduce evidence of the car’s condition before the shooting, and that the judge’s instruction to the jury was flawed. However, the primary issue Mr. Humphries raised related to the firearms offense. In cases involving one defendant who is charged with a firearm offense, the defendant can raise the fact that he or she was properly licensed as a defense. Under the joint venture theory of liability, Mr. Humphries was convicted of the firearms offenses because no evidence was introduced that Mr. Holley was licensed to carry a firearm and possess ammunition. Mr. Humphries argued on appeal that the Commonwealth still should have had the burden to prove that Mr. Holley was not properly licensed beyond a reasonable doubt in order to establish Mr. Humphries’ liability as a coventurer.

The SJC opined that the issue raised by Mr. Humphries was a novel one, and first looked at precedent regarding the defense of license in firearms cases. The SJC determined that in one-defendant cases, the defendant must produce some evidence that he was actually licensed to carry a firearm, or possess ammunition, and, after that, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is not licensed. The reason that the defendant must first provide that evidence is because whether he has a license is within his own knowledge, and not easily ascertainable by the prosecution.

The situation is different in the case of a firearms offense in the joint venture context because neither the coventurer defendant, nor the prosecution, is in a position to know whether the person who actually committed the offense was licensed or not. Thus, the SJC ultimately ruled that in such a case, the coventurer defendant need only raise the defense before the burden shifts to the prosecution. However, in the case of Mr. Humphries, defense of license was not raised in a timely manner, and the SJC ultimately affirmed the lower court’s ruling on his firearms offenses.

The case of Mr. Humphries illustrates the complex and constantly evolving gun laws of Massachusetts. If you have been charged with a firearms offense in Massachusetts, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced defense attorney. Call the law offices of Edward R. Molari today at for a confidential consultation.