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For purposes of armed robbery charges under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 17, the standard definition of "dangerous weapon" includes those items that are, by their nature, capable of causing serious injury or death, but also includes items that are used or displayed in a way such that they reasonably appear capable of causing serious injury or death. Thus, an object that is, on closer inspection, incapable of inflicting serious injury or death can still be a dangerous weapon if, at the time of the offense, it would have been reasonable to believe that it was capable of inflicting such injury.
Defendant Walter Powell threatened the cashier of a gasoline station convenience store in Plymouth with a replica of a double barrel shotgun, and managed to rob the store of approximately $170 in cash. Defendant was convicted of armed robbery and related offenses. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in not directing acquittal, because he used a fake gun, and in failing to include all language required by case law in its jury instruction on reasonable doubt.
Could the defendant be held liable for armed robbery, notwithstanding the fact that he used a fake gun in committing the crime?
The Court held that a dangerous weapon within the meaning of the armed robbery statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 17, included items used or displayed so as to reasonably appear capable of inflicting serious injury or death. There was sufficient evidence in the record from which the jury could have concluded that the wooden gun was a dangerous weapon. Anent the defendant’s contention on jury instruction, the Court held that all the Webster language was not required, so long as the jury charge as a whole properly communicated the Commonwealth’s burden of proof, and it did. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.