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Washington Court Discusses Out of State Convictions as a Basis for Weapons Charges

On Behalf of | Jan 20, 2020 | Firearms

Many people have lost the right to possess a firearm due to criminal convictions. Not only may convictions in Washington result in the loss of firearm rights, but in some instances, so may convictions in other states. In a recent case decided by the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1, the court discussed when an out of state conviction may be considered a predicate offense for an unlawful possession of a firearm charge. If you live in Washington and are faced with charges that you unlawfully possessed a firearm, it is advisable to consult a knowledgeable Washington weapons crime attorney regarding what you can do to protect your rights.

The Defendant’s Charges and Prior Offense

It is reported that the defendant was charged with murder in the second degree and unlawful possession of a firearm, arising out of an incident in which he shot an acquaintance in the face. He was convicted on both charges, after which he appealed. Regarding the firearm charge, the defendant argued that the California conviction that served as the predicate offense for the charge was not equal to a felony under Washington law, and therefore, the charge and conviction were improper. The court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments and affirmed the trial court ruling.

When an Out of State Conviction Constitutes a Predicate Offense

Under Washington law, a person is guilty of unlawfully possessing a firearm if he or she controls or possesses a firearm, and he or she has previously been convicted of a felony in Washington or elsewhere. When the courts review out of state convictions for firearm offenses, they compare them to comparable offenses and sentences in Washington, to determine if they meet the criteria to be considered a predicate offense. The main inquiry in assessing an out of state conviction is whether the defendant would have been convicted under Washington law for engaging in the same conduct that resulted in the conviction. Thus, the court will compare the elements of the out of state crime to the elements of a similar Washington crime, to evaluate whether they are sufficiently similar.

If an out of state statute is narrower or the same as a Washington statute, it will count as a predicate offense. If it is broader, though, the court must assess whether the conduct that served as the basis for the out of state charge would violate Washington law. In the subject case, the defendant was convicted of unlawful taking of a vehicle, with the intent to deprive the owner of possession or title. The similar Washington statute merely required proof that a defendant took a vehicle without permission. Thus, the court found that the California court defined the crime more narrowly, and therefore was appropriately considered a predicate offense.

Confer with an Experienced Gun Crime Attorney

If you are a Washington resident and are faced with charges arising out of the unlawful use or possession of a firearm, it is critical to confer with an experienced weapons crime attorney to discuss your case. The proficient criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White have the skills and experience needed to help you seek a just outcome, and we will advocate tirelessly on your behalf. We can be reached at 253-363-8662 or through the form online to set up a meeting.