Your right to legally possess a handgun or other type of firearm in Morris County is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that the right is absolute. When you exceed the bounds of the law and commit what is known as a gun crime in New Jersey, you can be arrested, charged with a weapons offense, and face serious legal jeopardy. Worse yet, NJ law includes provisions that could result in automatic prison time without the possibility of parole if you are ultimately convicted at trial on the gun charges, or if you plead guilty to the charges. These mandatory penalties are set forth in the Graves Act, and the likelihood of a lengthy prison sentence in your case is just one reason why you need to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer who has experience defending clients against gun charges in Morristown, Mount Olive, Parsippany, Randolph, Boonton, Denville, Roxbury, and elsewhere in Morris County.
Here is an explanation of Morris County gun charges, including how they typically occur and what kinds of penalties you might face in your gun case.
How Do Gun Charges Often Occur?
The location and circumstances of a gun arrest can influence exactly what types of charges are filed, which can in turn affect the penalties that the defendant is exposed to. Arrests on gun crime charges commonly happen during a traffic stop for a moving violation, with police either seeing a gun in plain view inside of the vehicle or searching the vehicle on suspicion of criminality (drugs, guns, etc.) and finding an illegal or illegally possessed weapon in the glove compartment, trunk, or under the seat. Gun charges are also commonly filed when a gun is used in another crime, such as aggravated assault, attempted murder, or a domestic violence incident. In fact, a lot of gun charges occur when police conduct a search at a domestic violence scene, discover a handgun or other firearm, and then learn that the owner isn’t legally allowed to possess the weapon. Additionally, if the gun was allegedly used to commit a crime, the underlying charges could be upgraded to more serious charges that carry harsher penalties. For example, a charge for simple assault could be upgraded to an aggravated assault charge when the defendant is accused of using a deadly weapon in the attack.
When police do make an arrest on a gun charge, the ensuing legal process and the possible consequences you face will depend on a lot of factors, including the type of gun involved in the offense. These are some of the most common guns involved in Morris County weapons offenses:
- Air Guns, Airsoft Guns, and BB Guns
- Assault Weapons
What Are the Most Common Gun Crimes in Morris County, NJ?
There are several different gun crime charges addressed by the NJ Criminal Code, with the degree of the charge making the biggest difference when it comes to the range of penalties like prison time, fines, etc. The important thing to recognize is that New Jersey gun crime charges are almost always classified as felonies, which means that a conviction can result in the defendant being sentenced to serve time in state prison as opposed to the county jail. Additionally, the sentences in these cases are significantly longer. The exact length of the prison sentence imposed in your gun crime case if you are convicted will depend on the degree of the charge. For example, a fourth degree gun charge carries a possible penalty of 18 months in prison, while a second degree gun charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The following discusses some of the most common gun crime charges in Morris County.
Unlawful Possession of a Weapon
Firearm ownership in New Jersey typically requires a person to obtain a permit to possess the gun. If you obtain a handgun, shotgun, rifle, or just about any other type of firearm without first securing a firearms ID card, your possession of that weapon could be deemed “unlawful.” When police discover you with that weapon and you cannot produce proof that you are legally allowed to possess it, or you have it somewhere other than a legal location like your house or securely locked and unloaded away from the driver’s compartment of your car, you may be arrested and charged with Unlawful Possession of a Weapon. As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, this crime is always classified as a felony-level weapons offense. The penalties can also escalate depending on the type of firearm. For example, since illegal possession of a machine gun is classified as a second degree offense, it carries penalties that include 5-10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.
Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose
Even if you have a permit to possess and/or carry your gun, you could still be charged with a weapons offense for carrying it with unlawful intent under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4. This is known as Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, and it means that you had the gun on your person with the intention of using it illegally to harm another person or to destroy someone else’s property. For example, if you carried a gun while committing a robbery, you may be charged for both the robbery offense and the weapons offense because the prosecution will likely argue that you were carrying the weapon for the purpose of using it during the robbery. Also, it won’t matter that you did not use the weapon; all that matters is that you were in possession of it while committing a crime. A conviction for Possession of Weapons for Unlawful Purposes could be devastating because not only would you face significant penalties for the underlying offense, but you would also be subject to penalties for the gun crime that can include a sentence of 5-10 years in prison.
Certain Persons Offenses
Although the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution stipulates that U.S. citizens have the right to bear arms, that right may be restricted or even permanently lost in certain circumstances. In New Jersey, it is against the law for many convicted felons to possess a firearm after their release from prison. This is particularly true when the individual was convicted of a violent crime such as Aggravated Assault, Sexual Assault, Robbery, or Kidnapping. If you are prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a prior conviction for one of these crimes, and police subsequently discover you with a firearm, you could be charged as a Certain Person Not Allowed to Have Weapons under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7. This crime is classified as a second degree offense when the weapon is a firearm, which means that you could face 5-10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines if you are convicted. If you were previously convicted of a disorderly persons offense for Domestic Violence, the Certain Persons Offense becomes a third degree crime and still carries a possible penalty of 3-5 years in prison.
Ramifications of Gun Charges in Morris County
Since gun crimes in New Jersey are indictable offenses, the case is always handled in the Morris County Superior Court. This means that your trial and any pre-trial hearings will occur at the Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, NJ, and the county prosecutor’s office will be prosecuting the case. Before your case reaches trial, however, it will first have to go before a grand jury. Only once the grand jury has issued an indictment on the charges will your case be scheduled for trial. Grand jury indictments are relatively easy for prosecutors to obtain, particularly since neither the defendant nor their attorney are allowed to present a defense. At trial, however, you will be able to respond to the charges. You may also be able to avoid trial by reaching a plea deal with the prosecution to either downgrade the charges or receive a lesser punishment like probation. You may even be able to use the Pre-Trial Intervention Program to dismiss them altogether. When facing a mandatory minimum sentence for a gun charge, you’ll need a Graves Act Waiver to negate the otherwise required sentencing terms. All of this should underscore the need to talk to an attorney who can protect your rights and help you achieve a positive outcome.
What to do if you face gun charges in Morris County, New Jersey
Without an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side, the outcome of your case could be disastrous. The potential consequences of gun charges in Morris County include prison time, fines, and a permanent criminal record. The prison time could range from 18 months in prison for a fourth degree offense to 10 years in prison for a second degree offense. Moreover, the ramifications of your gun charges could be affected by the Graves Act, which applies to most gun possession offenses. The Graves Act places a requirement on judges in these cases to hand down a prison sentence. For second and third degree gun charges, the judge must impose a minimum mandatory term of incarceration of at least one third of the full sentence or 42 months (whichever is greater), and the defendant will be ineligible for parole during this time.
Contact an authoritative Morris County firearms lawyer with vast learning in the realm of New Jersey weapons laws at 973-524-7238 to review the details of your gun case in a free initial consultation.