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State v. Garcia

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

July 5, 2018

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
JOAQUIN DAVID GARCIA, Petitioner.

          MADSEN, J.

         Joaquin Garcia was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm (UPFA) in the first degree. He moved for dismissal, arguing that the predicate offense relied on by the State in bringing the charge is invalid because the convicting court did not notify him of his ineligibility to possess firearms. The trial court dismissed the charge, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Garcia had "otherwise had actual knowledge" of the firearm prohibition. State v. Garcia, 198 Wn.App. 527, 536, 393 P.3d 1243, review granted, 189 Wn.2d 1015, 404 P.3d 480 (2017).

         This case presents two issues: (1) whether the trial court properly dismissed the UPFA charge on the basis that Garcia was not advised of the firearm prohibition flowing from Garcia's conviction at the time of his 1994 conviction, despite his later acquired knowledge that he was prohibited from possessing firearms, and (2) whether pretrial dismissal of a UPFA charge is proper where a defendant was not given notice of the firearm prohibition.

         We hold that Garcia had "otherwise acquired actual knowledge" of his ineligibility to possess firearms. We also hold that whether a defendant received statutory notice that he was prohibited from possessing a firearm may properly be resolved pretrial.

         FACTS

         In November 2014, Garcia's girlfriend told a doctor at Seattle Indian Health Board, a charitable clinic, that Garcia "threatened her the night before and was currently in the waiting room," armed with a handgun. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 4. When the police officers arrived, Garcia's girlfriend explained that Garcia was armed, and she walked the police officers to the waiting room and identified Garcia. The police officers placed Garcia in handcuffs, and he admitted, "This is her gun and I am just carrying it for her. She knows I can't carry again." Id. Garcia also acknowledged that he was a convicted felon and that he knew he could not carry a gun. The police officers subsequently found a loaded .40 caliber Ruger semiautomatic handgun inside Garcia's waistband.

         Garcia was charged with first degree UPFA based on Garcia's 1994 conviction for first degree rape of a child. Garcia was 13 years old at the time of his 1994 conviction, and pleaded guilty to the charge.

         Prior to trial, Garcia filed a motion, pursuant to CrR 8.3(c), to prohibit the use of his 1994 conviction as a predicate offense for the crime. In his motion, Garcia argued that his 1994 conviction was not a constitutionally valid predicate offense because at the time of his sentencing he was not informed orally and in writing of his ineligibility to possess firearms, as required by RCW 9.41.047(1).

         In response, the State conceded that it was unable to prove that Garcia was given either written or oral notice at the time of his 1994 conviction. However, the State did argue that despite its inability to prove that Garcia received his statutory advisement at the time of Garcia's conviction, it could prove that Garcia had subsequent actual knowledge of his ineligibility to possess firearms. Specifically, the State argued that Garcia was

notified approximately 10[1] times since 1996 of his [ineligibility] to possess a firearm, . . . that message has clearly gotten home to Mr. Garcia-I mean in all of the statements that he's making to the police, he is saying over and over again, "I know I am not supposed to have a gun."

         Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) at 36. The State also added that "the defense still needs to meet their burden . .. and provide something which would indicate that Mr. Garcia never affirmatively received notice." Id. at 38. The trial court disagreed. Instead, in granting Garcia's motion, the trial judge explained that

as a matter of law, we need not at this stage conclude that this is any longer a matter of fact, and that it is-that it would become Mr. Garcia's burden of proof, because as a matter of law, the evidence does not establish that at the time of the underlying conviction, Mr. Garcia received either oral or written notice.

Id. at 62 (emphasis added).

         The State appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed in a published decision. Garcia, 198 Wn.App. at 529. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court "erred by deciding Garcia's affirmative defense on a CrR 8.3(c) motion" and that lack of notice is an affirmative defense that Garcia must prove by a preponderance of evidence to the jury. Id. at 533. The Court of Appeals also held that "the State may overcome the lack of notice affirmative defense by presenting other evidence of actual knowledge of the law or the firearm prohibition," and in this case, ...


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