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Possession of a Concealed Weapon: New VA Case Law

A recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Virginia is changing how prosecutors, courts, and defense counsel approach concealed weapon charges, especially when the weapon is in a secured compartment in one’s personal vehicle.

The case which gives rise to potentially new arguments for defendants and defense counsel originated in Henrico County and is styled Doulgerakis v. Commonwealth, 61 Va App 417, 737 S.E. 2d 40 (2013).

Elias P. Doulgerakis was charged with the misdemeanor crime of possession of a concealed weapon. Doulgerakis was pulled over for a traffic violation in October 2011. According to the published decision in Doulgerakis v. Commonwealth, the officer asked if Doulgerakis had anything in his glove box that would cause concern. Doulgerakis told the officer he had a handgun in the glove box, which was closed and latched but not locked. The officer took the handgun and charged Doulgerakis with the concealed weapons violation.

In general, Virginia Code §18.2-308 makes it illegal to carry a concealed firearm, but the statute has exceptions and one of those exceptions is to lawfully possessing a firearm and carrying it in a personal, private motor vehicle when secured in a compartment in the vehicle.

When Doulgerakis was charged, prosecutors argued that he was in violation of the concealed carry statute because the glove box wasn’t locked and the weapon therefore wasn’t secured. He was convicted of the misdemeanor charge and appealed.

Doulgerakis argues that the glove box being latched — even if unlocked — was sufficient for his handgun to be secured and was exempt to the concealed weapons law. The Court of Appeals Judge Robert P. Frank, wrote the published opinion in the case, noted that the word “secured” can have different meanings, and that the statute doesn’t specify what level of security is necessary to trigger the exemption. The original draft of the statute used the word “locked” but that was later amended to read “secure,” indicating that the meaning of secured was broader than simply “locked.”

What the holding provides for defense counsel is to argue what constitutes secured and whether a firearm is secured or whether it is “readily accessible for use or surprise if desired.” The Honorable Judge Frank concluded that because Doulgerakis’ gun was in a “closed, latched and ‘well-fastened’ compartment” his access was reduced and he was not in violation of the concealed carry statute. The conviction was overturned.

If you’ve been charged with possession of a concealed weapon, the criminal defense attorneys of Roanoke Criminal Attorneys can help. Call (540) 343-9349 for a free consultation at our Roanoke office today.