Florida’s laws criminalize various activities involving a gun, and the prosecution of gun crimes in Florida often hinges on what it means to “possess a firearm,” a determination that isn’t as obvious as it might seem. In fact, a Florida appeals court recently ruled that “possession” of a firearm might not be the same thing under two different Florida laws.
The defendant was the passenger of a Cadillac that crashed into a police vehicle. The driver fled the scene, but the passenger remained in the vehicle. The Longwood Police Department conducted a search of the Cadillac and discovered a loaded handgun on the passenger side floorboard and cocaine in the vehicle’s center console. As a result of the search, the passenger was charged with two gun crimes: (i) trafficking in cocaine while armed with a firearm, known as armed trafficking, and (ii) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, known as felon-in-possession.
At trial, the jury determined that the defendant “carried” a firearm in furtherance of the armed trafficking crime; however, the jury also found that the defendant did not “actually possess a firearm,” which would have led to a further enhancement. The judge then dismissed the severed felon-in-possession charge because additional prosecution of that charge was barred by collateral estoppel, a doctrine that forecloses the further consideration of a previously determined fact that was necessarily determined in the defendant’s favor; it is not sufficient that the fact might have been determined by the first trial.