In a decision that may affect how some gun crimes are sentenced in the territory, the V.I. Supreme Court remanded an unauthorized firearms possession sentence for reconsideration, saying the trial court "abused its discretion."
The court was considering David Lopez’s appeal of the denial of his request to have V.I. laws allowing probation for simple unauthorized possession of a firearm. According to court documents and the Supreme Court opinion, in 2012, Lopez and his family had dinner at the Le Reine Chicken Shack restaurant on St. Croix. Upon arriving, Lopez realized that his father-in-law’s firearm was in the pickup truck he had driven to the restaurant. Lopez holstered the firearm to his person and proceeded to dine with his family.
Over the course of the evening, the weapon became exposed, and staff members of the restaurant alerted police officers who were also dining at the restaurant about the firearm. Lopez cooperated with the police and was arrested, charged and pled guilty to a charge of failure to report firearms brought into the territory as part of a plea agreement.
The Superior Court rejected Lopez’s request to apply V.I. law allowing probation if the gun was not used in a crime and sentenced Lopez to two years of incarceration, all suspended, a fine of $5,000 and two years of supervised probation.
The Superior Court ruled that Lopez was excluded from the more lenient provisions of the law, based on a provision pertaining to the "use of a deadly weapon." But the Supreme Court found that the law requires "use" of the weapon to commit a crime, not simply the crime of possessing it.
"Here, the defendant simply failed to report the firearm to the commissioner, and it was not utilized or used in any overt or manifest action. Thus the Superior Court made an errant conclusion of law, amounting to an abuse of discretion, in determining that the defendant’s conviction did not qualify for the favorable treatment options provided by" V.I. law, the justices wrote in their published opinion. (David M. Lopez v. People of the Virgin Islands, 2014.)
The court remanded the case to Superior Court for further consideration "in accordance with this opinion."