Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Court of Appeals Clarifies Meaning of "Presenting" a Firearm

On April 5, the S.C. Court of Appeals released an opinion interpreting the meaning of "presenting" a firearm.  In In re Spencer R., the juvenile defendant was convicted of presenting a loaded assault rifle at a woman, the woman's daughter, and the daughter's friend -- a felony criminal offense carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  The facts suggest that the defendant "stared down" the alleged victims while holding a loaded assault rifle in the 10 o'clock and 4 o'clock position (essentially, holding the gun at rest).  Although the defendant never actually pointed the weapon at any of the victims, the trial court found that the term "presenting" encompassed holding a firearm with the muzzle pointing up.

The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with the trial court's definition.  In a per curiam opinion, the court adopted a definition of to present as "to offer to view in a threatening manner, or to show in a threatening manner."  Based on this new definition, the court still found there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of the presenting a firearm, based largely on circumstantial evidence.  Although the defendant was holding the assault rifle at ease, he "stared down" one of the victims as she passed by the defendant in a car.  Additionally, the defendant made statements earlier in the day about wanting to shoot and kill the victim.  The court's opinion clarifies a somewhat ambiguous statutory term, which may make it easier for criminal defense attorneys in South Carolina to better analyze pointing and presenting cases.

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