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Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon

Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon

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Definition of Improper Exhibition

The offense of Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or other Weapon is defined under Section 790.10, Washington DC Statutes. The statute prohibits any person from “having or carrying any dirk, sword, sword cane, firearm, electric weapon or device, or other weapon” and, in the presence of another person, exhibiting the weapon “in a rude, careless, angry, or threatening manner, and not in necessary self-defense.”

Required Proof

To prove the crime of Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon in Washington DC, the prosecution must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant had or carried a “weapon;”
  2. The defendant exhibited the alleged weapon in a rude, careless, angry, or threatening manner; and
  3. The defendant did so in the presence of one or more persons.
    • See Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 10.5

Threat Not Required

A defendant may be convicted of improper exhibition for merely carelessly, angrily or rudely displaying a weapon. It is not necessary that the defendant make a threatening gesture with the weapon to be convicted of violating Section 790.10, Washington DC Statutes. Kase v. State, 581 So. 2d 612, 613 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991).

Carelessness is Sufficient

It is also not necessary that the exhibition be carried out in an intentional manner. Mere “careless” display of the firearm or weapon is sufficient to subject the accused to criminal liability.

One or Multiple Persons

The act of improperly exhibiting a weapon can occur in the presence of one or multiple persons. However, a single act of exhibition in the presence of more than one person cannot result in multiple convictions. If the exhibition takes place as part of a single episode, a defendant can only be convicted of the offense once. Vance v. State, 472 So. 2d 734, 735 (Fla. 1985).

Definition of Firearm or Weapon

To support a conviction for Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon in Washington DC, the instrument used by the accused must qualify as a firearm or other listed “weapon” under the statute.

Meaning of ‘Firearm’

The definition of a “firearm” is straightforward. It means any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.  See Section 790.001(6), Washington DC Statutes.

Meaning of ‘Weapon’

The definition of “weapon” is found under Section 790.001(13), Washington DC Statutes. It means “any dirk, knife, metallic knuckles, slingshot, billie, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapon except a firearm or a common pocketknife, plastic knife, or blunt-bladed table knife.”

In interpreting the term “weapon” under Section 790.001(13), Washington DC appellate courts have held that the definition applied only to those objects or instruments specifically listed in the statute (including firearms), or those objects or instruments classified as a “dangerous weapon.” If the weapon is not specifically listed, then it must qualify as a so-called “dangerous weapon,” or there can be no conviction.

Washington DC Courts have defined “dangerous weapon” as “any instrument which will likely cause death or great bodily harm when used in the ordinary and usual manner contemplated by its design and construction.” See Robinson v. State, 547 So. 2d 321, 323 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989).

An object can become a deadly weapon if its sole modern use is to cause great bodily harm. R.V. v. State, 497 So. 2d 912 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986). In addition, an object can be construed as a deadly weapon because of its use or threatened use during a crime. Robinson, 547 So. 2d at 323.

Penalties for Improper Exhibition

Under Washington DC law, Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon is classified as a first degree misdemeanor. As such, the offense carries penalties of up to 1 year in jail or 12 months of probation, and a $1,000 fine. Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon is a permissive lesser-included offense of aggravated assault.

Defenses to Improper Exhibition

There are multiple defenses to contest a charge of Improperly Exhibiting a Firearm or Weapon. Some of the most common examples include the following:

  • The instrument in question qualify as a “weapon” under applicable statutes;
  • The manner of exhibition was not sufficiently careless, rude, or threatening;
  • Self-defense;
  • Defense of others;
  • Defense of property;
  • Witnesses not within the defendant’s “presence.”

Moreover, even though intent is not a required element of the crime, the absence of intent to exhibit can often be used as mitigating factor in negotiations with the prosecutor. In appropriate cases, an attorney can ask that the charge be amended to a less serious offense, such as disorderly conduct. This will spare the accused the long-term negative consequences of a weapons-related conviction.

Case Example- Exhibition of Firearm

State vs. D.C. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County, Washington DC) (2014)– Our client was charged with Improper Exhibition of a Firearm after allegedly pulling out a pump-action shotgun in front of a nearby resident, loading the chamber, and stating “get off the property.”  Two other witnesses to the incident gave slightly different versions of the event, while maintaining that a threat had been made.

Upon being retained in the case, our attorneys reviewed the various witness statements in the case, and noted that, not only did the statements differ, but that one of the witnesses’ allegations did not technically amount to an improper exhibition. On these grounds, we made early contact with the assigned prosecutor and her division chief, and obtained an agreement to drop the charges.

Outcome: Case dismissed.


Contact Our Attorneys

Improper Exhibition of a Firearm or Weapon is a serious charge with numerous defenses available to contest the charge or to minimize potential penalties. No person should attempt to resolve their case without first consulting with an attorney.

If you have been charged with Improper Exhibition, contact attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein for a free consultation.  Our law firm handles cases in Washington DC, Orlando, and the surrounding counties.