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Passenger in Pennsylvania DUI arrest faces weapons charges

Pennsylvania state and federal laws make it a crime for a person who has previously been convicted of a felony offense to possess a firearm. Felon in possession laws are often strictly enforced and this can result in prison time. However, in order for a person to be convicted of this crime, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant actually possessed the firearm. A recently reported gun arrest illustrates this principle.

Recently, a 29-year-old Pennsylvania man was indicted on federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The man was arrested after being a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over after the driver was suspected of drinking and driving. Before the driver pulled over, law enforcement authorities pursued the vehicle in a high-speed chase. Police officers believe that a .22 caliber handgun was thrown from the vehicle during the chase. They believe the 29-year-old passenger is the person who threw the weapon from the vehicle.

The 29-year-old passenger has previous felony convictions stemming from a 2009 investigation into a heroin and crack cocaine ring. He was convicted of five felony counts of drug trafficking. Because of his status as a convicted felon, he is facing up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is convicted of possessing the firearm.

Importantly, the prosecution will need to prove that the passenger actually possessed the firearm in question beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus far, it appears these charges are based on officers' accounts that the handgun was thrown from the moving vehicle.

That information by itself may not be enough to convict in a case like this because it will be difficult to prove the gun came from the vehicle in question and that there was more than one person in the vehicle at the time the gun was thrown from it. If there is not more evidence of the passenger's actual possession of the firearm such as fingerprints on the weapon or an admission of guilt, possession in cases like this often cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Source: Chambersburg Public Opinion, "Man, 29, indicted for possession of a firearm," 3/18/2011

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