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Washington Court Vacates Firearm Conviction that Violates Double Jeopardy

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2021 | Evidence

While people generally have the right to own weapons, some people who have prior felony convictions are barred from owning firearms and can face criminal charges if guns are found in their possession. While a person that is not permitted to own guns can be charged with multiple weapons charges, they cannot be charged more than once for possessing the same weapon, and if they are, it likely constitutes double jeopardy. This was demonstrated in a recent Washington ruling in which the court reversed one of the defendant’s convictions for unlawful possession of a weapon. If you are charged with a weapons offense, you may be able to avoid a conviction, and it is advisable to speak to a knowledgeable Washington gun crime defense attorney to evaluate your rights.

The Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that a barista called the police and reported that the defendant visited the drive-through window of a coffee shop, reported that he was running from the police, and showed the barista a revolver. Three days after that incident, the defendant shot a person with a revolver when he was at a lake. The defendant was subsequently charged with multiple offenses, including two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. He was convicted as charged. He then appealed his firearm convictions, arguing that the two counts arose out of the same conduct and that double jeopardy applied, requiring the court to vacate one of his convictions. The court ultimately agreed.

Double Jeopardy in the Context of Gun Crimes

The court explained that double jeopardy protections are provided by the constitution, and therefore, the defendant did not waive his right to raise this argument by asserting it for the first time on appeal. The principle of double jeopardy prohibits a person from being put in jeopardy more than once for the same offense.

Generally, the prohibition on double jeopardy prevents a person from being prosecuted for a crime after being acquitted of it or being prosecuted for a crime after being found guilty of committing it. It also prohibits a person from being punished multiple times for the same offense. In assessing whether double jeopardy has been violated, a court examines the course of conduct or act that has been deemed unlawful.

Under Washington law, the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm is a single unit of prosecution. This is true even if the offense is committed in multiple places because it rests on a course of conduct, not a distinct act. As such, to prove the two separate charges, the State was required to show that the defendant’s possession of the gun was interrupted. The appellate court found that the State failed to meet this burden. As such, one of the convictions was vacated.

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

People convicted of weapons charges can face serious penalties, but simply because someone is charged with a crime does not mean the State can obtain a conviction. If you are faced with weapons charges, the experienced Washington gun crime defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue the best result possible under the facts of your case. You can reach us through our online form or by calling 253-363-8662to set up a conference.