In Washington, some crimes have alternative means of commission. In other words, a person may be found guilty of such a crime for engaging in more than one type of activity. Simply because there are multiple ways an offense may be committed does not mean the State’s burden is lessened. Rather, as demonstrated in a recent Washington gun crime case, jury unanimity is required to convict a person of theft of a firearm when there is inadequate evidence to support one of the means of commission. If you are charged with a weapons crime, it is advisable to meet with a trusted Washington gun crime defense attorney to discuss your case.
The Alleged Theft
It is reported that the defendant was at the home of his minor girlfriend when the home was visited by a neighbor who brought a bottle of liquor. The defendant and the neighbor consumed some of the alcohol, and the defendant, his girlfriend, and the neighbor went outside so that the girlfriend could shoot the neighbor’s rifle. The neighbor and the defendant became involved in an altercation, and the defendant hit the neighbor in the head with the rifle. The girlfriend’s mother called 911, after which the defendant took the gun and ran into the woods.
Allegedly, when the police arrived, they saw the defendant running away but did not apprehend him. Over the next few days, the defendant stored the gun in his home and took it with him outside. The police found the weapon during a search of the defendant’s home. He was charged with and convicted of multiple crimes, including theft of a firearm. He appealed his convicted as to the theft charge, arguing that because the court failed to instruct the jury regarding unanimity, and the State did not present sufficient evidence of two of the three means of committing the crime, his conviction must be reversed.
Jury Unanimity in Alternative Means Crimes
Under Washington law, a criminal defendant has the right to a unanimous jury verdict. Further, when a charged offense lists alternative methods of commission, a trial implicates this right. In such instances, the court must assess whether the jury must unanimously agree that the defendant employed one of the means of commission or whether the defendant may be found guilty despite a lack of unanimity as to the means.
Ultimately, the courts have held that when there are ultimate means of committing an offense, and there is adequate evidence to support each of the means, a defendant does not have the right to a jury expression of unanimity as to the method of commission. If evidence is insufficient to support any of the means, though, a specific expression as to the means used must be unanimous. In the subject case, the court agreed with the defendant that the theft of a firearm charge was an alternate means crime and that the evidence did not support commission by any of the three means. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s appeal.
Speak to a Seasoned Washington Attorney
In many criminal matters, the jury must come to a unanimous agreement regarding an issue in order for the defendant to be convicted, and if unanimity is not present in such a case, a guilty verdict may be appealable. If you are charged with gun theft, the seasoned Washington weapons charge defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assist you in fighting to protect your rights. We can be reached through our form online or by calling 253-363-8662 to set up a meeting.