Mother's Felony Charge For Gun in D.C. Rejected

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday threw out a gun charge against a woman whose 7-year-old daughter showed up at an elementary school with a loaded pistol.

Maryam Williams told police at the time that the gun was hers. Williams, 32, said that her daughter had taken it by mistake when she grabbed a bag out of the trunk of her car, prosecutors said.

Magistrate Judge Ronald A. Goodbread did not appear to doubt that account of the March 14 incident. But he found that prosecutors did not have adequate evidence that the mother herself was in possession of the handgun outside her home -- the key element of the felony charge of carrying a pistol without a license.

The District has one of the nation's strictest gun control laws, barring anyone but a law enforcement officer from carrying a gun within city limits. But the statute sets a strict standard, and proving that a person possessed a gun can be difficult, particularly when it is not on the person when it is seized. To prove the felony charge, the gun must be carried outside the person's residence.

The fact that the gun was in the trunk, which was locked, was not necessarily enough to prove the charge. Complicating matters, Williams gave police three addresses when she was arrested -- two in the District, including one where her mother lives, and one in Maryland. Prosecutors tried to convince the judge that Williams had carried the gun on a District street, from her car into her mother's home on North Capitol Street, and that she had carried the gun inside her mother's home.

But Williams's attorney, Premal Dharia of the D.C. Public Defender Service, challenged that argument, and without more precise evidence about where and when Williams carried the gun, Goodbread was unwilling to let the charge stand.

Even as he ruled in Williams's favor, Goodbread had little good to say about her actions, calling her conduct "stupid and potentially tragic."

The events that led to Williams's arrest began on the morning of March 14 when she dropped off her daughter at Emery Elementary School at 1720 First St. NE. Williams popped the trunk and the girl retrieved her bags, among them a DKNY bag that belonged to her mother but that the child sometimes took to school. Unbeknownst to the girl, the mother had placed in the larger DKNY bag a small Coach bag containing a palm-sized, .380-caliber pistol containing five live rounds.

Several hours later, the girl discovered the gun and turned it over to a teacher. School officials called the police, and Williams was summoned to the school.

Testifying yesterday, a D.C. police detective said that when Williams arrived at the school, she immediately sought to explain what had happened.

"That's my gun. She took the wrong bag," the mother said, according to the detective.

The U.S. attorney's office could revive the case by charging Williams with possession of an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition and with the misdemeanor version of the charge of carrying a pistol without a license. As a misdemeanor, the charge can be brought against someone who had a gun in his or her home.

Leaving court yesterday with a child in a stroller, Williams and her fiance declined to comment.

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