Washington Court Discusses the Independent Source Doctrine

In many cases in which a person is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, the evidence in support of the charges was obtained without a warrant. Evidence obtained without a warrant may be unlawful, and the State may be precluded from introducing it at trial. In some cases, however, unlawfully obtained evidence may be admitted under the independent source doctrine, as recently discussed by a case decided by a Washington appellate court. If you are a Washington resident charged with unlawful possession of a firearm it is essential to retain a zealous Washington weapons charge defense attorney to assist you in setting forth a strong defense.

Facts of the Case and Procedural Background

It is alleged that police officers responded to a report of a burglary at a business, by the owner of the business. The police then stopped the defendant outside of the business. The owner reported that the defendant was a prior employee who had been fired a week earlier. The defendant admitted he had been living in a room in the business. The owner and the defendant then became involved in a verbal argument and entered into the room.

It is reported that the police followed the men, and observed a handgun near the defendant. The defendant was handcuffed, and one of the police officers opened a cabinet to ensure no one was hiding inside. The cabinet contained two guns. The police then obtained a search warrant and found multiple firearms and amphetamines. The defendant was charged with four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Reportedly, prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found during the search of the room but did not challenge the search warrant. The motion was denied, and the defendant was found guilty of four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. He appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress.

Independent Source Doctrine

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, evidence obtained via an illegal search is typically suppressed. Under the independent source doctrine, however, even if the evidence is tainted by unlawful police action, it will not be excluded as long as it is ultimately obtained pursuant to a valid warrant or other lawful means. Further, a search warrant based on information that was unlawfully obtained will remain valid if probable cause to obtain the warrant exists based on independent facts outside of the unlawfully obtained information.

In the subject case, the court stated that the warrant was obtained after the officers observed the handgun and guns in the cabinet in the room. The court found that the evidence in the room was sufficient to allow the officers to obtain the warrant, even excluding the guns in the cabinet. Additionally, the warrant would have revealed the guns in the cabinet. As such, the court found the evidence was properly admitted under the independent source doctrine.

Consult an Experienced Defense Attorney

If you face charges of unlawful possession of a firearm it is crucial to consult an experienced Washington weapons charge defense attorney to discuss your case and what evidence the State may use against you. The knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will work diligently to help you fight to protect your liberties. You can contact us via our online form or at  253-203-1645 to set up a meeting regarding your case.

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