Washington Court Rules Gun Found During Terry Stop Can be Admitted into Evidence

If you are charged with a crime, in part, due to a firearm found during a search without a warrant it is essential to determine whether the search constituted an unreasonable search and seizure and therefore, the evidence of the gun should be suppressed.

A Washington court of appeals recently discussed the grounds for permitting a Terry stop, an exception to the rule a warrant is needed to conduct a search, in assessing whether to overturn convictions based on a firearm and other evidence found during the stop. If you are charged with a firearm related crime, it is in your best interest to retain an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney to fight to preclude evidence that the State should not be permitted to use.

Facts Regarding the Traffic Stop

Reportedly, in the early morning hours of October 16, 2015, the police received four calls within a few minutes regarding an active shooter at a gas station. A police officer responded to the call and observed two men sitting in an SUV near the entrance of the gas station parking lot. The men matched the description of the shooters that were provided in the 911 calls. The officer initiated a traffic stop and ordered the passengers of the SUV to exit the vehicle. The passengers were frisked, handcuffed, read their Miranda warnings, and placed in the back of a police car.

It is alleged that upon returning to the SUV the officer observed a firearm under the front passenger seat of the SUV. The defendant, who was sitting in the backseat of the SUV, was charged with first-degree assault and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence found as a result of the traffic stop, on the grounds the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. The motion was denied. Following a jury trial, he was convicted of both charges, after which he appealed. 

Grounds for an Investigatory Terry Stop  

On appeal, the court stated that both the State and Federal Constitution require an officer to obtain a warrant prior to seizing a person unless an exception applies. A search known as a Terry stop is permissible if the officer has reasonable suspicion based on articulated facts that the person stopped either committed a crime or is about to commit a crime. The reasonableness of the stop depends on the nature of the alleged criminal conduct. A stop must be based on more than a suspicion the detainee is doing something he or she should not be doing. The officer’s training, the conduct of the person stopped and the location of the stop are factors weighed in determining whether a stop is reasonable.

In the subject case, the defendant argued the officer did not have sufficient facts to connect the SUV to the shooting. The court disagreed, based on the information provided in the 911 calls and the fact that the SUV was located at the scene of the crime. The defendant also argued that his detention exceeded the scope of the stop, and any evidence obtained during the stop must be precluded from evidence. The court rejected this argument as well. The court held that due to the serious nature of the crimes alleged, the officer’s actions in handcuffing and detaining the defendant were appropriate. Based on the foregoing, the court affirmed the defendant’s convictions.

Consult a Seasoned Washington Weapons Charge Defense Attorney

If you face criminal charges based on a firearm found during a search that was conducted without a warrant, you should consult a seasoned Washington weapons charge defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and your rights under the law.  At the Law Offices of Smith and White, our knowledgeable defense attorneys will vigorously advocate on your behalf to help you protect your liberties. We can be contacted at 253-203-1645 or via the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Under Washington Law a Suspect can be Convicted of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm if Suspect has Actual Notice of a Firearm Prohibition, October 12, 2018, The Law Offices of Smith & White Blog

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