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Court Discusses Evidence of Uncharged Crimes in Washington Criminal Trials

On Behalf of | Jul 29, 2020 | Firearms

Typically, in a Washington criminal trial, the prosecution is limited to introducing evidence that would persuade a judge or jury that the defendant committed the charged offense. As such, any evidence that is unrelated to the underlying crimes, and that would be prejudicial to the defendant may be precluded. For example, the prosecution cannot typically refer to uncharged crimes the defendant may have committed, as discussed in a recent Washington weapons charges case. If you live in Washington and are charged with a weapons crime, it is prudent to meet with a knowledgeable Washington weapons crime defense attorney to discuss what evidence the prosecution may be permitted to introduce against you at trial.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant had a close relationship with a female friend that lived with a boyfriend and a child she had with the boyfriend. One evening, the boyfriend showed the defendant multiple guns that he owned and kept in a gun safe. The following morning, the defendant, who suffered from several mental illnesses, became convinced that the boyfriend had molested the child and advised his friend that they needed to take the guns and child and leave the apartment.

Allegedly, the friend dismissed the defendant’s allegations, but he persisted, after which they became involved in a physical altercation. The friend called the police, and when the police arrived, they found the defendant outside of the apartment building with a bag containing two guns. The defendant was charged with two counts of firearm theft and second-degree assault. He was convicted as charged, after which he appealed on several grounds.

Evidence of Uncharged Crimes

On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the prosecution engaged in misconduct by implying to the jury that the defendant could have been charged with more than two counts of firearm theft. The appellate court ultimately disagreed.

Under Washington law, references to crimes with which the defendant was not charged or that were dismissed may be prejudicial to the defendant because it invites the jury to assess the defendant’s guilt based on improper grounds. Thus, for evidence regarding uncharged crimes to be admissible, it must be relevant to the issues at trial and allow for reasonable inferences and arguments about the charged crimes to be made.

In the subject case, the evidence showed that the defendant took several firearms, but he was only charged with the theft of two of the guns. In advising the jury that although the defendant took multiple guns, he was only charged with two counts of theft, the prosecution was explaining the instructions regarding what the jury must find to convict the defendant, namely that he took the two specific guns that were found in his bag. As such, the court affirmed the trial court’s verdict.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a theft of a firearm or any other weapons charge, it is important to meet with an attorney to assess your potential defenses. The experienced Washington weapons charge defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are well-versed in what it takes to obtain a favorable outcome at a criminal trial, and we will fight to help you protect your rights.  You can contact us at 253-363-8662 or through the form online to set up a conference.