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Court Reverses Washington Unlawful Firearm Conviction Due to Unlawful Stop

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2019 | Evidence

The law affords individuals certain rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. In other words, the police are not permitted to detain or search a person without a reasonable basis. Further, the State is precluded from introducing any evidence obtained during an unlawful stop against a defendant. If a conviction is based on evidence obtained during an unlawful stop, it may be grounds for a reversal of the conviction, as evidenced in a recent case in which a Washington court of appeals vacated a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. If you or a loved one are facing charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, you should meet with a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney to discuss your available defenses.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Charges

Allegedly, the defendant was a seated passenger in a car parked in the parking lot of a grocery store. A man who parked next to the defendant’s car, observed the defendant holding a gun on his lap. The man went into the grocery store and called 911 to report what he observed. An officer responded to the call, an observed the car in which the defendant was a passenger leaving the lot. The officer subsequently conducted a felony stop. The driver, who claimed she was the owner of the car, denied there were any firearms in the car and gave the officer consent to search the car. It was determined that the defendant had prior felony convictions and was under Department of Corrections (DOC) supervision, so DOC was contacted to conduct the search.

It is reported that upon searching the car, the police found multiple firearms. The defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. The defendant filed a motion to suppress any evidence obtained during the traffic stop, on the grounds that the police lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity prior to conducting the stop. The court denied the motion. A trial was held and the jury found the defendant guilty, after which he appealed.

Reasonable Suspicion of Criminal Activity

On appeal, the court noted that warrantless searches and seizures are unreasonable unless one of the narrow exceptions applies. Terry stops are one of the established exceptions to the rule against warrantless searches. Terry stops allow the police to investigate situations which call for an immediate response but for which there is no probable cause for an arrest. For a Terry stop to be valid, the officer conducting the stop must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The suspicion must be based on clear and specific facts that the officer knows at the time of the stop. Whether the officer’s suspicion is reasonable is evaluated on the totality of the circumstances, including the officer’s training, when and where the stop occurred, and the behavior of the person stopped.

Here, the court found that the public possession of a firearm, in and of itself, was inadequate to support an investigatory stop. Further, because the officer conducting the stop had no information that either the driver of the car or the defendant were engaged or about to engage in criminal activity, the officer lacked reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the stop. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Retain an Experienced Washington Weapons Charge Defense Attorney

If the State has charged you with unlawful possession of a firearm, it is in your best interest to retain a skillful Washington weapons charge defense attorney as soon as possible to assist you in protecting your rights. The attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith and White will aggressively argue on your behalf in hopes of obtaining a successful legal result under the facts of your case. Contact us at 253-363-8662 or through the online form to schedule a conference.