Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers for Gun Charges
We frequently help clients who are facing gun charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In this video, Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Zak Goldstein explains three of the most common defenses to illegal gun possession charges. As a general rule, gun charges are particularly serious. They are almost always felony charges. In New Jersey, possession of a firearm without a permit carries a mandatory minimum of three years in jail even for a defendant with no prior record. In Pennsylvania, although there is currently no mandatory minimum for illegal possession of a firearm, the state sentencing guidelines typically call for jail time even for a first offense. Finally, in the federal system, gun charges carry extremely severe mandatory minimums.
Fortunately, there are a number of potential defenses to firearms offenses. Three of the most common defenses include:
- Possession - All gun charges require the prosecution to show that the defendant actually possessed or owned the firearm. Depending on the evidence, the prosecution may not be able to show that it was actually the defendant's gun or that the defendant ever possessed the gun. In cases where the defendant is arrested with the gun in a pocket or waistband, possession may not be the strongest defense.
However, in cases where the defendant is not in actual, physical possession of the gun, the prosecution may not be able to prove possession. In order to prove possession of a gun that is not physically on the defendant, the prosecution will rely on the doctrine of constructive possession. Constructive possession requires the government to show that the defendant both had access to the gun and the intent to control it. This mean that it is not nearly enough for the government to show only that the defendant was found near a gun. This issue frequently arises in cases in which a person is stopped in a vehicle which turns out to have a gun in it. Without some additional evidence that the defendant both knew of the gun and intended to control it, the mere discovery of the weapon by the police may not be sufficient for the government to obtain a conviction.
- Suppression - In any case involving a possessory offense, the prosecution must be able to show that the police found the evidence in a lawful manner. There are real limits on the authority of the police to stop individuals and search their belongings, including their cars and their homes. If the police were required to obtain a warrant prior to the search and did not do so, or they had no real basis for stopping and searching the defendant, then it may be possible to have the evidence suppressed and excluded from trial. In a gun case, if the police stopped and searched the defendant without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, the gun could be suppressed and the case could be dismissed.
Operability - In Pennsylvania, many gun offenses require the Commonwealth to send the gun to a lab for ballistics testing in order to prove that the gun was in fact a real gun and that it was operable. Both VUFA Sec. 6108 (possession of a firearm on the streets of Philadelphia) and VUFA Sec. 6106 (possession of a concealed firearm without a permit) only apply when the defendant possesses a real, operable gun. If the gun is actually a BB gun or air soft gun, or it cannot be made to fire without substantial repairs or alterations, then these criminal statutes may not apply. Therefore, the Commonwealth will have to prove that the gun was real and operable. In some cases where a complaining witness or police witness testifies that they saw the defendant with a gun but the gun was never fired and ultimately never recovered, the prosecution may not be able to prove that it was actually a real gun. If they cannot, then the defendant could be acquitted at trial by a judge or jury. This rule does not apply to the felon in possession of a firearm statute (VUFA Sec. 6105).
We Can Help With Weapons Offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Every case is different, and there are numerous firearms offenses and other weapons offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The statutes which often make carrying guns without a license illegal are often more technical and complex than one would expect. Although gun crimes and illegal firearms possession charges are extremely serious, there are often defenses to these charges. Our Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers have the experience and skill to investigate your case, evaluate the evidence against you, and fight for the best possible result. Depending on your case, that could be a pre-trial dismissal, the suppression of incriminating evidence, an acquittal at trial, or a reduced sentence. Call 267-225-2545 for a free criminal defense strategy session with one of our Philadelphia gun lawyers.