Admission of Gun Evidence in California

In Cox, the court reviewed the admission of gun evidence: "In People v. Riser (1956) 47 Cal.2d 566, the defendant murdered two people during a robbery. The killing was committed with a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber Special revolver. The gun was never recovered. Riser was found with three holsters, one of which could hold a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson Special revolver. Riser also possessed a Colt .38-caliber revolver, which could not have been the murder weapon. We stated the rule of admissibility as follows: 'When the specific type of weapon used to commit a homicide is not known, it may be permissible to admit into evidence weapons found in the defendant's possession some time after the crime that could have been the weapons employed. There need be no conclusive demonstration that the weapon in defendant's possession was the murder weapon. When the prosecution relies, however, on a specific type of weapon, it is error to admit evidence that other weapons were found in his possession, for such evidence tends to show, not that he committed the crime, but only that he is the sort of person who carries deadly weapons.' Because the murder weapon was known, we ruled that the admission of the Colt .38-caliber revolver was error, but such error was not prejudicial." (People v. Cox, supra, 30 Cal.4th at pp. 955-956.) In Cox, one witness testified she saw the defendant use a knife to kill one of the victims, and another witness testified the defendant told her he had stabbed and strangled all three victims. (People v. Cox, supra, 30 Cal.4th at pp. 927, 939.) On appeal, the defendant challenged the trial court's admission of evidence that police found three handguns during a search of the defendant's vehicle. (Id., at pp. 955-956.) The California Supreme Court found no error reasoning that "although the prosecutor argued that the evidence pointed to a stabbing, such argument did not preclude the reasonable probability that one or all three of the victims had been shot," such that the guns were relevant either "as possible murder weapons" or they were used to coerce victims into defendant's car and because it was "not known how the three victims were killed." (Id., at pp. 956-957.) It is sufficient if the weapon "might have been" used, even if the evidence does not establish any other link between the weapon and the charged crime. (People v. Carpenter (1999) 21 Cal.4th 1016, 1052.) During the discussions on the admissibility of Exhibit 38, the prosecutor argued the gun held by Santana might have been used in the shooting. (Compare People v. Barnwell (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1038, 1055-1056 Officer Flores testified that a year before the murder, the defendant possessed a handgun similar to the murder weapon. The court concluded: "Because the prosecution did not claim the weapon found by Officer Flores was the murder weapon, its admission was error.".)