9/25/2007Virginia Supreme Court Throws Out Gun Case Against Innocent Motorist
A motorist prosecuted for legally carrying a pistol is cleared by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Virginia earlier this month exonerated a man who had been prosecuted for leaving a legally carried firearm in an automobile after an accident. Danville, Virginia resident Joseph Clifton Pruitt worked late at night in Greensboro, North Carolina and so openly carried a .357 caliber Sig-Sauer pistol on his passenger seat for personal protection, as is allowed under state law.
On October 6, 2004, a vehicle pulled out in front of Pruitt's 1995 Ford Thunderbird, causing a collision. The force of the impact knocked Pruitt's gun into the Thunderbird's passenger footwell. Pruitt picked it up and placed it into the closed console between the front seats. He reasoned that securing his weapon would be the prudent thing to do before his mangled car was towed away. Pruitt then left his car, his head bleeding.
While paramedics treated Pruitt, Danville Police Officer Clark C. Gagnon searched his car and found the gun. Gagnon immediately went to the ambulance and put the injured motorist under arrest for "possession of a concealed weapon."
At trial in Danville Circuit Court, prosecutors argued that Pruitt's being in an ambulance near a closed vehicle containing a gun constituted a flagrant attempt to conceal a weapon "about his person." The judge agreed and imposed a three-year suspended prison sentence on Pruitt, a decision twice upheld by the Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court, however, chastised these decisions as based on an improper interpretation of the law.
"It is self-evident that when a person conceals a weapon in an enclosed console of a vehicle and then exits that vehicle, the weapon is not as readily accessible as a weapon concealed in a carried bag or satchel," Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr. wrote in the unanimous decision. "There simply is no evidence demonstrating that Pruitt remained in the vehicle for any appreciable length of time beyond that necessary to place his pistol in the console compartment."
The court vacated Pruitt's conviction and dismissed all charges against him. The full decision is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.