Imagine traveling home from a long day at work only to nearly be run off the road by a road-raging driver. Then imagine that the same road-rager falsely accused YOU of being the violent one, and the police arrested YOU and took YOU to jail. Then imagine still that the prosecutor refused to look at the evidence that showed your innocence and instead charged YOU with a crime relating to the incident. Where’s the justice? Who’s going to fight for you to prove your innocence?
This is exactly the scenario that happened to a recent client of Derek’s. The client, who was in his 60’s with a spotless record, was employed as a supervisor at a large construction site. As part of his job, he was required to possess a security clearance. The client was also a firearms enthusiast, and he legally owned guns for hunting as well as for self-defense. He carried a gun on his person before and after work, and had a valid concealed weapons permit. While driving back home from work, he kept the gun holstered against the center console, where it was visible to anyone looking into the car from the passenger side.
It was a beautiful late summer day with a bright blue sky. The client was enjoying the afternoon sun in his car, and had his windows down. He was traveling north on I-5 through downtown Seattle, waiting in traffic to get onto the express lanes that would take him home. Without warning, a long commercial truck carrying a trailer with equipment pulled alongside the right side of the client and began to move left into the client’s lane. There was nowhere for the client to go, with cars ahead and behind him and a concrete median to his left. The express lanes split off from the mainline freeway right at the point where the truck was trying to cut the client off – the truck was trying to skip the entire line of traffic.
The client honked his horn to tell the truck to back off. The other driver honked back, then screamed obscenities at our client, demanding to be let in. But his truck was so long, that even if the client had slammed on his brakes, he still would have been hit by it. The only thing for the client to do was to keep moving forward. That’s exactly what the client did. If things had ended there, it would have been an anxious but ultimately harmless situation, one that probably occurs a thousand times a day in rush hour traffic.
But the truck driver escalated the situation. After the truck merged onto the express lanes, he sought out and caught up with the client. The truck pulled alongside the client’s car and began to move over into his lane, this time deliberately attempting to wreck the client. That was enough, thought the client, and he called the police, giving 911 all the details about the truck and what had happened. The dispatcher told the client that police units were on the way to the client’s location.
When the client saw red and blue lights behind him, he was relieved. He pulled his vehicle over to the side of the freeway and got out of the car. But when he did so, HE was ordered at gunpoint by the police to get back in his car. As it turned out, the road-raging truck driver had also called 911, and had phoned in a false report that the client had taken his gun out of the holster and pointed it at the truck driver and his passenger. When the police stopped the client, he quickly advised the police that he had a legal gun in his car. This was all the police needed to “corroborate” the road-rager’s story, and they arrested the client. They put the client’s hands behind his back and tightly handcuffed him. The client had a history of medical issues, including heart problems and a surgically repaired shoulder that was pulled behind him so tight that he was left in agony. The police took him to jail, where he had no reading glasses and no way of reviewing any papers he was given. He had to spend the night in jail for a crime he didn’t commit before being bailed out by his distraught wife.
The client was charged with unlawful display of a firearm, a crime under Washington law that carries up to a year in jail. More importantly for the client, a conviction for this offense would mean the loss of his security clearance, which would mean the loss of his job, the loss of his entire livelihood.
There was no videotape of the incident, and it was two witnesses (the truck driver and his passenger) against one (the client), so the case looked like a tough one initially. The truck driver who phoned in the report said that the client had pointed the gun directly at his face from a distance of less than 10 feet. The passenger essentially parroted the same line. We conducted a full investigation, interviewing those witnesses, who essentially repeated their stories to us.
But the client had an ace in the hole. The gun in the client’s car was equipped with a laser sight that would turn on automatically as soon as someone put their hand around the grip of the gun. The laser activated was bright red and unmistakable, easy to see even in direct sunlight. If the client had brandished the gun as the road-rager had said, it would have been impossible not to see a bright flash of red in his face, or the passengers face, or even to view the red light against the black background of the interior of the client’s car. But of course, neither the road-rager or the passenger mentioned this to police, or to us during our investigation. That’s when we knew we could prove that their stories were false.
The prosecution was completely unwilling to hear the evidence that we had uncovered, and the case went to a jury trial. During trial, the road-rager himself testified, and his testimony was completely unbelievable, according to members of the jury that were questioned after the case was over. The passenger was mysteriously absent for trial and did not testify. The truck driver attempted to portray himself as a totally innocent victim in the incident, as someone who just wanted to merge over, and was prevented by the aggressive driving of the client. However, we were able to successfully attack his credibility by playing portions of his previous recorded interviews where he told a different story, and boasted about how he is a confrontational person. Using maps and photos to show the layout of the roadway, we proved that our client was legally in a place he had the right to be, and it was the truck driver who was completely out of control. After failing to merge over, and seeing the firearm holstered in our client’s car, the truck driver and his passenger called in a false report, stating that the client had pointed the gun and threatened the truck driver.
During trial, we were able to show the jury the gun and the laser sight exactly how it would have appeared on that day. The client testified and proclaimed his innocence, and the client demonstrated the proper use of the gun and laser sight to the jury. We showed the jury that the truck driver did not plan on that gun having a laser sight, and that it blew his false accusation out of the water. Anyone can call in a false report if they saw a black gun in someone’s car. But of course that report wouldn’t note a laser dot unless the gun was actually drawn. Which, in this case, the client never did.
The jury returned a not guilty verdict immediately. The client’s liberty and livelihood were saved, although this charge never should have been brought, and never should have gone to a trial. The police were forced to return the client’s gun back to him. Justice cannot be taken for granted. It must be seized by persons wrongly accused of crimes. Don’t count on things just “working out for the best” without action. In a situation like this, you need the best defense possible. That’s what we offer at the Conom Law Firm. Give us a call whenever you need us.