Handgun In Plain View? Prove it!
- June 20, 2016
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Jarrell Williams was convicted of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b) after an officer allegedly saw a handgun in plain view on the floor of his vehicle during a motor vehicle stop. At all times during the proceedings, Williams maintained that he was unaware that the vehicle, recently purchased by his mother, contained a handgun. Williams also maintained that the gun was not in plain view on the floor of the vehicle near the driver’s seat. The facts collectively presented at trial in State v. Williams are that 4 men, including the defendant, entered the vehicle and smoked marijuana then the defendant pulled the vehicle out of the driveway just as two plain clothed police officers came down the street at which point Williams immediately pulled over and turned off the vehicle. The officers claimed that the location and actions of the defendant and the vehicles’ other occupants gave rise to suspicion and the officers turned around. Seeing the officers’ vehicle turn around, all 4 occupants exited the vehicle before the officers engaged them in conversation. Conflicting accounts of the vehicle’s ownership were offered by occupants and Officer Brown approached the vehicle, with its doors open, to verify the registration. The officer’s testimony was that he observed a marijuana cigarette and plastic bag and, upon going to retrieve same, noticed the pistol on the floor in front of the driver’s seat. The 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1 of the New Jersey Constitution establish and protect a defendant’s right to present a complete defense including confrontation of witnesses. Several cases including State v. Garron, 177 N.J. 147 (2003), State v. Budis, 125 N.J. 519 (1991), State v. Sugar, 100 N.J. 214 (1985), State v. Crudup, 176 N.J. Super. 215 (App. Div. 1980) and State v. Guenther, 181 N.J. 129 (2004) have upheld this right but within the constraints of N.J.R.E. 611(a) and N.J.R.E. 401 which afford the court discretion of control over the trial. The N.J. Appellate Division ultimately decided that the jury should not be placed in the position of determining the constitutionality of a search and seizure but that Defense counsel’s line of questioning was not in danger of placing them in that position and was instead intended to determine whether the officer had a predetermined purpose in offering the statements he had made and was an attempt to introduce motive on the part of the officer to testify in a certain manner. The NJ Appellate Division determined that the defendant’s right to cross-examine the officer was violated and that, due to the possible influence this may have had on the decision of the jury, the matter was remanded for a new trial. Weapons offenses are subject to severe punishment including incarceration for 5-10 years for many such offenses. If you are charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, it is critical that you obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to represent you. For more information about possession of a handgun without a permit, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon while on parole or probation, possession of a weapon during a drug related offense or other serious weapons charges visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of counsel.