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NC Court of Appeals dismisses gun charge against homeless man visiting UNC Hospital


NC Court of Appeals dismisses gun charge against homeless man visiting UNC Hospital

May 21, 2024 | 3:04 pm ET
By Clayton Henkel
NC Court of Appeals dismisses gun charge against homeless man visiting UNC Hospital
North Carolina Court of Appeals (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday threw out the conviction of Joseph John Radomski III, a homeless man who was convicted for possession of a firearm on educational property.

In June 2021, Radomski drove to University of North Carolina Hospital for treatment related to a temporary kidney shunt. Radomski parked in the open-air lot nearest the Taylor Campus Health building in a spot designated as handicapped parking.

When UNC Hospital reported a suspicious vehicle in their lot, an officer with the UNC Chapel Hill Campus Police Department observed the vehicle did not have a plate and no insurance coverage.

Radomski, acknowledged that he had firearms in the vehicle, and was living in his vehicle at the time.

The officer recovered six long guns including an SKS black semi-automatic rifle, a magazine, several rounds of ammunition, several other semi-automatic rifles, and a Winchester 1400 shotgun.

At Radomski’s jury trial in 2022 he was found guilty of one count of possession of a firearm on educational property and the judge ordered his sentence of 5 to 15 months to be suspended, placing him on 12 months of supervised probation.

Radomski appealed the judgment arguing the statute under which he was convicted was unconstitutional.

He argued that he was unaware that the parking lot near the hospital was affiliated with a nearby university, and it would “severely curtail” his right to possess arms “in numerous places not historically understood to be sensitive places in violation of his Second Amendment rights.”

Lawyers for the state argued that prohibiting Radomski’s possession of a firearm in the parking lot adjacent to the UNC Hospital was indeed constitutional, and that the parking lot was a restricted, gun-free zone.

But, in an opinion authored by Judge Hunter Murphy and joined by Judge Jeffery Carpenter, the court agreed with Radomski that the purpose of the “open-air parking lot situated between the emergency room entrance, a football arena, and another healthcare building” is not educational in nature. Chief Judge Chris Dillon authored brief concurring opinion. All three judges are Republicans.

The panel found that the lot was merely “functional” providing parking access while Radomski was trying to have his health concerns addressed. Therefore, the statute that banned the possession of a firearm on educational property was unconstitutional as it was applied to Radomski.

This is from the 23-page opinion:

“To restrict Defendant’s Second Amendment right pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 14-269.2(b) under these facts, where the firearms remained within his vehicle in the parking lot of the hospital where he had gone to seek medical treatment, would be unconstitutional.”

“…The State presented sufficient, substantial evidence that Defendant was on educational property as defined by the statute. However, the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss because the State failed to present substantial evidence that Defendant knew he was on educational property.”

The court found the state also failed to present any evidence as to which path Radomski took to arrive at the parking lot. Simply driving past signage is not the same thing as knowing one is on university property.

Chief Judge Chris Dillon agreed with Murphy and Carpenter that the gun possession statute was unconstitutional as applied to Radomski but found that there was evidence that the defendant should have known he was on educational property.

“The officer testified that Defendant told him that he “always forgot” that the hospital was on UNC’s campus, suggesting that he has been there and/or at least was admitting that had known at some point in the past that the hospital was on UNC’s campus. One cannot forget what he did not once know,” wrote Dillon.

Read the full 23-page opinion here.

a map of the UNC Chapel Hill campus
Joseph John Radomski III was parked in a lot between UNC Hospital and Kenan Stadium when he was charged in 2021. Source: Google Maps.