People convicted of felonies often lose the right to own weapons, and the mere act of possessing a firearm can result in significant penalties. The State must prove each element of a charged firearm offense through competent evidence, though, and if it cannot, it should not be able to obtain a conviction. Recently, a Washington court assessed what constitutes sufficient proof of possession of a real firearm, in an opinion arising out of an appeal of an unlawful possession conviction. If you are accused of illegally owning a gun, it is in your best interest to consult a skilled Washington weapons charge defense attorney to assess your rights.
The Defendant’s Arrest and Trial
It is reported that a police officer approached a car that was parked in a closed parking lot. There were two people sitting in the front seats, and the defendant was sitting alone in the back seat. The officer noticed a semiautomatic weapon on the floor of the car by the defendant’s feet. The defendant would not keep his hands in view, after which he was removed from the car. The officer obtained consent to search the vehicle and retrieved the gun.
Allegedly, he then obtained a warrant and found a holster for the gun under a blanket in the backseat, illicit substances, and paraphernalia related to the sale of illegal drugs. The defendant was charged with multiple gun and drug crimes. He was convicted, after which he appealed, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he was in possession of an actual firearm.
Sufficient Proof of Possession of a Real Firearm
Under Washington law, possession of a gun may be constructive or actual. Actual possession refers to a gun being in the personal custody of the person charged with possessing it, while constructive possession occurs when a person has control or dominion over a gun, but it is not in their actual physical possession.
A person may be deemed to have dominion if he or she has the ability to take actual possession of a gun. Control and dominion are determined by a totality of the circumstances, and no single factor is determinative. Here, the court found that there was more than enough evidence to prove that the defendant had constructive possession of the gun.
The court also disregarded the defendant’s argument that the State failed to prove the gun was real. The court noted that while the State erred in failing to introduce the gun into evidence, the circumstantial evidence demonstrated that the gun that was found in the car with the defendant was handled and tested by the police and found to be an operable firearm. Thus, the defendant’s convictions were affirmed.
Meet with a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington
Simply because the State charges a person with a gun crime does not mean that there is adequate evidence to obtain a conviction. If you are charged with illegally owning a gun, the seasoned Washington weapons charge defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assess the circumstances surrounding your arrest and advise you of what arguments you may be able to set forth in your defense. You can reach us via our online form or by calling 253-363-8662 to set up a conference.