Court Discusses What Constitutes a Seizure in a Washington Weapons Crime Case

It is the duty of the police to ensure the safety of the public as a whole. In performing their job duties, however, the police are not permitted to violate the rights of individual citizens. One of the rights afforded individuals is the right to be free from unlawful seizure. If a person is unlawfully stopped, anything found during the seizure, such as a weapon, should be precluded from evidence in any trial for charges arising out of the seizure. A Washington appellate court recently addressed what constitutes a seizure in a case in which the defendant was convicted of unlawful firearm possession due to evidence found during an unlawful seizure. If you are charged with a weapons crime it is important to know how a conviction may impact your liberties and to engage an assertive Washington weapons charge defense attorney to help you present a strong defense.

Facts Regarding the Stop

It is alleged that the police received a call at 2:00 am regarding a suspicious vehicle in an alley. The caller stated that an unfamiliar vehicle was parked at the end of a dead-end street with its lights off. Two police officers responded to the call, each in his own patrol car. The patrol cars drove down the alley, but the police did not activate the cars’ overhead lights. The officers parked their cars and by doing so blocked the vehicle. The officers then approached the vehicle with flashlights and found the defendant and a woman in the vehicle. The defendant and his companion provided the police with identification, and the defendant informed the officers that he owned the vehicle.

Reportedly, the officers were informed by dispatch that the defendant was a convicted felon but that he did not have any outstanding warrants. The officers then spotted a gun in the backseat of the vehicle and made the defendant exit the vehicle. The officers subsequently obtained a search warrant and removed a loaded gun from the back seat. The defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. Prior to the trial, he moved to suppress all evidence and statements due to unlawful seizure. Following a hearing, the trial court ruled that the seizure was based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and therefore, was lawful. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to thirty-six months imprisonment, after which he appealed.

What Constitutes a Seizure

On appeal, the appellate court addressed the issue of whether the officers seized the defendant. The court noted that both the state and federal constitutions prohibit unlawful seizure. Thus, while the Washington legislature did not define seizure, it is necessary to determine what constitutes a seizure in order to determine if a seizure was unlawful. The appellate court noted that whether a person’s interaction with the police is a seizure is a question of fact and law, as not all interactions constitute a seizure.

Rather, a seizure occurs when a person does not feel free to leave, end the encounter, or refuse to answer the officer’s request, due to the officer’s use of force or display of authority. Whether a person’s belief that he or she has been detained is reasonable depends on the particular facts of the encounter. While engaging in a social conversation or requesting identification does not constitute a seizure, immobilizing a defendant does constitute a seizure.

In the subject case, the appellate court noted that the defendant was unable to leave due to the fact that he was blocked in by the patrol cars. Additionally, the police never advised the defendant that he was free to leave or ignore their requests. Thus, the appellate court found that a seizure occurred. Additionally, the appellate court found that the police lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the seizure. As such, the appellate court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with an Experienced Washington Weapons Charge Defense Attorney

If you are currently charged with a weapons charge it is critical to retain an experienced Washington weapons charge defense attorney advocate on your behalf.  The skilled weapons charge defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will diligently pursue the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can reach us at 253-203-1645 or through the online form to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.

 

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