Crime

Appeals court reverses convictions in Sportco gun theft case

The state Court of Appeals has reversed the convictions of a man serving life in prison under Washington’s “three strikes, you’re out” law, saying Fife police did not have cause to arrest him during their investigation of the theft of dozens of guns from a sporting goods store.

A three-judge panel for Division II sent the case of Soeun Sun back to Pierce County Superior Court for further proceedings.

The panel’s opinion, released Wednesday, suppressed much of the evidence against Sun compiled by investigators, so it remained unclear whether prosecutors have enough of a case to try him again.

In 2013, a jury convicted Sun, now 33, of six felonies, including the strike offense of first-degree burglary.

Jurors believed the arguments of prosecutors, who contended Sun participated in the December 2011 break-in of the Sportco/Farwest Sports shop in which more than 40 firearms were stolen.

Detectives said in court records that Sun later tried to sell many of the guns.

Police arrested Sun in the weeks after the burglary after they saw him driving a car investigators had tied to the crime. They’d also seen him place something into the trunk before getting behind the wheel, court records show.

A search of the trunk revealed one of the guns taken from Sportco. Detectives later searched Sun’s house and found a 9mm pistol stolen from Sportco.

Superior Court Judge James Orlando allowed that evidence into the trial. That was a mistake, the appeals panel decided.

Before the officers stopped Sun they had little evidence that he might have been involved in the Sportco burglary, the panel ruled.

“Here, the officers had nothing more than a hunch that Soeun Sun may have been involved in the burglary,” Chief Judge Jill Johanson wrote in a unanimous opinion signed by Judges Lisa Worswick and Rich Melnick.

“This falls far short of the clear and convincing evidence the state must produce to justify the investigative stop exception to the warrant requirement.”

Ten men in all were arrested in the case, and most were convicted.

Sun had previous strike convictions for robbery and assault.

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