A former D.C. Protective Services Police Department sergeant was facing more than a year in prison for unlawfully possessing an AR-15 assault rifle, which his bosses had authorized him to purchase.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that in the end, it was not this authorization but a prosecution failure that resulted in a judge dismissing all three weapons charges against the officer.
The defendant's guilt or innocence was not decided by the judge.
Here's what happened:
The defendant purchased the weapon after the chief of his agency announced that it planned to for a highly-specialized SWAT team that would be armed with high-powered semiautomatic weapons. That team would reportedly be focused on curbing domestic terrorism and workplace violence.
The D.C. Protective Services Police Department is an agency whose officers have limited arrest powers and are charged with guarding municipal offices. They are authorized to carry 9 mm handguns. Assault weapons continue to be illegal in the District.
The Maryland purchase of the AR-15, which the defendant at the time had described as his "dream weapon," was authorized by the police agency's top commanders, who cited the defendant's need to train. The deputy chief even provided a letter that indicated the rifle's purchase was authorized by agency because it was intended for official duties. This clearance allowed the officer to circumvent both the normal 30-day waiting period, as well as the federally-required background check that he otherwise would have had to undergo.
At no point was that weapon stored in a police facility, prosecutors say. Nor was it ever reportedly used for anything related to duty. City leaders halted the agency's plans to form a SWAT team.
Prosecutors contended that all along, the defendant sought authorization to purchase the weapon solely for his personal possession and use.
The city has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, but the officer insisted his superiors had given him permission to purchase and possess the weapon.
The defendant in this case has been suspended since he was first arrested back in March of 2011. He turned down various offers of a plea bargain, which in the end seems to have worked to his favor.
Prosecutors refused to back down on the case, despite insistence that it was all political show-boating, designed to put a smaller police agency in "its place."
However, the reason the judge ultimately tossed the charges was because mid-trial, defense lawyers discovered an e-mail, beneficial to their case, that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense.
Whether it was an honest oversight or not doesn't matter. Prosecutors have a duty to turn over any and all evidence to defense lawyers prior to trial. That includes exculpatory evidence, or that which is considered favorable to the defense.
A failure to do this can be grounds for a mistrial or, as in this case, a dismissal of charges.
Prosecutors reportedly plan to appeal to a higher court to allow them to proceed with another trial.