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Court Reverses Washington Firearm Conviction Due to Use of Profile Evidence

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2019 | Evidence

Under Washington law, the State must prove each element of a crime to rightfully convict a defendant. For example, if a defendant is charged with possessing a stolen firearm the State must provide evidence showing that the defendant possessed a stolen firearm and acted with knowledge that the firearm was stolen. If the State does not have strong enough evidence to show the defendant actually knew the firearm he or she possessed was stolen in most cases, the State may try to rely on profile testimony in support of the charge. This was illustrated in a recent Washington appellate case, where a defendant’s conviction for possession of a stolen firearm was overturned after the State relied on testimony that because the defendant was a convicted felon he was more likely to possess a stolen firearm. If you are charged with a firearm crime in Washington it is critical to retain a seasoned Washington weapons charge defense attorney to assist you in precluding any evidence the State should not be permitted to introduce against you.

Facts Regarding the Crime and Trial

Allegedly, in June 2015, the defendant was confronted by a police officer pursuant to an outstanding warrant. The defendant ran away from the officer and threw a gun while he was running. The officer ultimately apprehended the defendant and retrieved the gun, which was reported stolen in October 2014. The defendant, who was a convicted felon, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm.

It is reported that during the trial, the State introduced testimony from multiple police officers regarding how convicted felons obtain guns. The officers each testified that “they” will steal them or buy them off the street. Further, the prosecuting attorney in his closing argument stated that it would be impossible to prove the defendant had actual knowledge that the gun was stolen, but “that’s how these guys are getting them.” The defendant was convicted of both charges after which he appealed the possession of a stolen firearm charge.

Profile Testimony Under Washington Law

To convict a defendant of possession of a stolen firearm the State must show that the defendant knew the gun was stolen. The State does not have to prove actual knowledge but must show that the defendant should have had notice that the gun was stolen. On appeal, the defendant argued that the State relied on improper profile testimony to prove he knew the gun was stolen. Washington defines profile testimony as testimony that indicates a person is a part of a class that is more likely to commit a crime. In other words, in using profile evidence, the State attempts to convict a defendant on evidence outside of the facts of the case by identifying traits the defendant has in common with other people who commit the same crime.

The court noted that there is no rule expressly permitting or prohibiting profile testimony and that some courts allow it in limited circumstances. The court cautioned, however, that it cannot be used as proof of guilt, because that risks the defendant being convicted based on what other people have done. Ultimately, the court found that the profile testimony impermissibly sought to convict the defendant based on the actions of other people and was therefore improper. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s possession of a stolen firearm conviction.

Meet with a Seasoned Washington Weapons Charge Defense Attorney

If you were recently charged with a weapons charge it is critical to meet with a seasoned  Washington weapons charge defense attorney to discuss your case and what evidence the State is permitted to use against you.  The attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will provide you with a thorough and aggressive defense to help you in your attempt to protect your liberties. You can contact us at 253-363-8662or through the online form to schedule a consultation.