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Probable Cause Issues in a Firearms Crime Case

On Behalf of | May 26, 2022 | Evidence

The state and federal constitutions generally protect people from unreasonable searches, which means, in part, that absent exigent circumstances the police must have a warrant to conduct a search of a person’s body or property. If a police officer seeks a warrant to search a property based on information from an informant, their request should only be granted if they demonstrate probable cause to believe that the items in question will be found on the property. Recently, a Washington court discussed what constitutes probable cause in a case in which the defendant appealed his unlawful possession of a firearm conviction. If you are charged with a weapons crime, it is in your best interest to talk to a Tacoma weapons charge defense lawyer at Smith & White, PLLC as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with unlawful possession of firearms and other offenses after police found weapons in his apartment during a search pursuant to a warrant. The police sought the warrant after receiving information from a confidential informant indicating that the defendant was selling illicit substances and had weapons in his possession, which was unlawful because he was a convicted felon. The case proceeded to trial, and the defendant was convicted on all counts. He appealed, arguing in part that the warrant was not supported by probable cause.

Probable Cause for Issuing Warrants

The Washington and United States Constitutions dictate that search warrants will be issued upon a finding of probable cause. The appellate court explained that probable cause is present when the affidavit in support of a warrant sets forth facts and circumstances that are adequate to establish a reasonable inference that the defendant is most likely engaged in criminal activity and that evidence of their unlawful behavior may be found at a specific location.

The appellate courts will review a magistrate’s decision to issue a warrant for an abuse of discretion. The appellate courts afford magistrates great deference and will evaluate an affidavit in support of a search warrant in a common-sense manner, and any doubts regarding probable cause will typically be resolved in favor of issuing a warrant. In the subject case, the defendant argued that the magistrate lacked probable cause to issue the warrant because the informant that provided the information to the police was unreliable, and the information was stale. The court disagreed and upheld his conviction.  However, if the informant had been unreliable, or lacked a basis of knowledge or if the information had been stale then the evidence could have been excluded.

Meet with a Capable Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer

Weapons charges can result in significant penalties, but if the evidence that a person committed a firearms offense was obtained unlawfully, it may be inadmissible. If you are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, it is advisable to meet with an attorney to assess your options for seeking a good outcome. The capable Washington criminal defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White can inform you of your potential defenses and help you to pursue the best legal result possible under the facts of your case. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at 253-363-8662 to set up a meeting.