While criminal defendants can be charged with multiple crimes that are similar, they cannot be charged numerous times for the same offense. Thus, if a defendant is charged with different degrees of unlawful possession of a firearm for a single uninterrupted act, it may constitute a violation of the right against double jeopardy. This was the topic of a recent Washington ruling in which the court vacated one of a defendant’s two convictions for the same act. If you are charged with a weapons crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a Washington weapons charge defense attorney to determine your rights.
The Defendant’s Charges
It is reported that while the defendant was being arrested for the possession of marijuana as a minor, a handgun fell out of his pocket. He had previous convictions that prohibited him from possessing a weapon. Thus, he was charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, one first-degree charge, and one second-degree. He was convicted on both counts, after which he appealed, arguing his convictions violated double jeopardy.
Double Jeopardy with Regards to Weapons Charges
Pursuant to the United States and Washington Constitutions, no person can be put in jeopardy twice for the same offense. This is known as the prohibition against double jeopardy, and it prohibits the State from imposing numerous punishments for the same crime. If a defendant is convicted of violating one law multiple times, each conviction can only withstand analysis under double jeopardy standards if each one is a separate unit of prosecution.
A unit of prosecution is the scope of the criminal act that the lawmakers intended to punish under a specific criminal law. A unit of prosecution may be a single act or a course of conduct. If a state defines a crime as a course of conduct over a duration of time, then it is a continuous offense. In the subject case, the criminal statute the defendant allegedly violated stated it was a crime for a person convicted of certain offenses to own or possess any firearm.
Further, the law stated that each unlawful possession of a firearm constituted a separate offense. In other words, in which each firearm was a separate unit of prosecution, a person could not be charged with or convicted of multiple crimes for the uninterrupted possession of a single weapon. The court found that it was undisputed that the defendant only possessed one gun on one occasion. Thus, his multiple convictions violated double jeopardy, and his conviction for the lesser offense was vacated.
Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington
It is well known that people cannot be convicted more than once for the same crime, but defendants’ double jeopardy rights are frequently violated by the Washington courts. If you are accused of a weapons charge, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer about your options. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White possess the skills and resources needed to help you seek the best outcome available in your case, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us via our online form or by calling us at 253-203-1645 to schedule a conference.