Under Washington Law a Suspect can be Convicted of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm if Suspect has Actual Notice of a Firearm Prohibition

A felony conviction may affect your ability to possess a handgun under Washington law. If you are prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a conviction, the state must advise you of the prohibition at the time of your conviction, and the state must show that you were advised of the prohibition to prosecute you for unlawful possession of a firearm. In State of Washington v. Joaquin David Garcia, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington held, however, that a suspect could be convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm even if he or she was not advised of the prohibition at the time of his or her conviction, if he or she later became aware of the prohibition. If you are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, it is important to confer with a knowledgeable Washington weapons charge defense attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

Facts of the Case

Purportedly, the suspect’s girlfriend advised her physician during an appointment that the suspect threatened her and was in the waiting room with a gun. Upon arrival of the police, the suspect allegedly admitted he had a gun but stated it was his girlfriend’s. The suspect further advised the officer he was a convicted felon and was not permitted to carry a gun. The officer found a gun on the suspect’s person.

The suspect was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. He moved to have the charge dismissed on the grounds he was not notified at the time of his felony conviction he was not permitted to own or carry firearms. The state argued that regardless of the fact that the suspect was not advised he was not permitted to possess firearms at his prior conviction, he had actual knowledge of the prohibition. The trial court held that because the suspect was not advised of the firearm prohibition at his felony conviction, the charges against the suspect’s must be dismissed, and granted the suspect’s motion. The state appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling, holding that lack of notice is an affirmative defense that the suspect must prove. Further, the court held that the state could defeat the lack of notice defense by showing the suspect had actual knowledge of the prohibition. The suspect then appealed to the Supreme Court of The State of Washington.

Ruling of the Supreme Court of The State of Washington

On appeal, the court addressed the issue of whether the charge against the suspect should have been dismissed due to the fact the suspect was not informed of his firearm prohibition when he was convicted of a prior crime, if he later became aware of the prohibition. The court noted that the statute requiring notice of a firearm prohibition at the time of conviction did not provide any resolution for a court’s failure to provide notice. The court stated, however, that case law established that lack of the statutorily required notice of a firearm prohibition is an affirmative defense that could be rebutted by evidence of actual knowledge of the prohibition.  The suspect argued that actual knowledge of a prohibition must be present at the time of the conviction. The court declined to adopt this reasoning, holding that the purpose of the notice is to advise a person of the loss of the right to bear arms, and that such notice need not happen at the time of the conviction. Rather, any notice of the prohibition from an authorized individual such as a judge or attorney would suffice. Here, the suspect was advised of the prohibition stemming from his felony conviction when he was sentenced for subsequent crimes. As such, the court found he had sufficient notice. Based on the foregoing, the court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals.

Retain a Seasoned Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing weapons charges you should confer with a seasoned weapons charge defense attorney  to discuss the facts of your case and what defenses may be available to the charges you face.  The skilled criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White have the knowledge and experienced necessary to help you obtain a successful outcome. Contact our offices at 253-203-1645 or via the online form to setup a consultation.

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