Do not get caught with a firearm or other weapon in New Jersey, not even a paintball gun, without the proper permits. Illegal weapons possession charges in New Jersey have serious consequences, as the state is home of some of the strictest gun laws nationwide. While owning a gun without a permit would seem like a mere paperwork oversight, like forgetting to renew your car registration, it is not. It is far more serious. You could end up in prison, paying high fines and an even higher price with a criminal record for unlawfully possessing a weapon.
Typically, these are second degree offenses which include between five (5) and ten (10) years in state prison and contain a presumption of incarceration. Moreover, the Graves Act governs many firearms and weapons charges in New Jersey which is enumerated under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6. The Graves Act provides for mandatory imprisonment and parole ineligibility for certain offenses. As a result, many firearms offenders are facing a minimum mandatory of five (5) years in state prison and three (3) years without parole eligibility, even with no prior criminal record. A good criminal defense lawyer, however, can help you fight the charges.
Unlawful Weapons Possession in New Jersey
There are several ways to violate the weapons laws of NJ. The main type of weapons charge is unlawful possession. The statute that governs these offenses is N.J.S. 2C:39-5, which governs charges for:
- Unlawful Possession of a Machine Gun – N.J.S. 2C:39-5(a)
- Unlawful Possession of a Handgun – N.J.S. 2C:39-5(b)
- Unlawful Possession of Rifles and Shotguns – N.J.S. 2C:39-5(c)
- Unlawful Possession of Other Weapons – N.J.S. 2C:39-5(d)
- Unlawful Possession of Assault Firearms – N.J.S. 2C:39-5(f)
Often, people face these charges for owning, carrying, or purchasing firearms without a permit, license, authorization, or firearms identification card. The degree of the crime differs with the type of firearm or other weapon involved. For instance, owning a machine gun without a license or carrying a handgun without a permit is a second degree crime, punishable by five to ten years in prison and up to $150,000.00 in fines. But purchasing a rifle or shotgun without a firearms identification card or possessing a loaded rifle or shotgun is a third degree crime, carrying a three to five-year prison sentence and a $15,000.00 fine. Possessing any other weapon unlawfully is a fourth degree crime, carrying a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.
A weapon can be anything used to potentially kill or harm another or their property, such as brass knuckles, firearms, dirks, daggers, stun guns, switchblades, sawed-off shotguns, and slingshots, to name a few.
You can also be charged with a different offense for knowingly possessing a weapon for what would seem, under the circumstances, an unlawful use. This charge is governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4. An example of an unlawful weapon use would be shooting a BB gun at the neighbor’s dogs or using a weapon to destroy or attempt to destroy another’s property. An appropriate use of a permitted BB gun may be target practice shooting at an authorized shooting range, but using it to destroy another’s property is a fourth degree crime under the law in New Jersey. So, whether using a weapon is lawful or unlawful depends on the appropriateness of its use or intended use under the circumstances.
In addition, possessing a firearm on school grounds without authorization, regardless if legally owned, is a third degree crime. Other weapons possession violations include bringing a fake weapon to school grounds or on a school bus, a disorderly persons offense (punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine), and owning an unregistered automatic weapon, which is a second degree crime. Exceptions exist for law enforcement or active duty military, and temporary possession of weapons is not necessarily illegal. Furthermore, juveniles under the age of 18 may not purchase, own, or carry a weapon under any circumstances or face a fourth degree conviction and sentence of up to a year in a juvenile detention center. These cases will be handled in Juvenile Court in NJ.
Graves Act for Unlawful Possession of Guns in NJ
The Graves Act, which applies to illegal weapons possession when it involves firearms, entails mandatory sentencing provisions even for first-time offenders. If charged with a Graves Act offense, the person sentenced must serve a minimum sentence without eligibility for parole that is typically longer than the usual minimum. So, for example, a defendant convicted of second degree crime with a sentence of five to ten years, must serve at least 3 years before becoming eligible for parole.
Pre-Trial Intervention for those Charged with Illegal Weapons Possession
First-time illegal weapons possession offenders lose other advantages available to other convicted offenders, like the diversionary programs aimed at rehabilitation rather than conviction. For example, the Pre-Trial Intervention allows eligible applicants to attend supervised programs that, once completed, end in a dismissal of the charges. Those charged with weapons possession are presumptively ineligible for the program. The good news, however, is that PTI may be an option in some cases, such as those involving BB guns, airsoft guns, and paintball guns, as well as possession of a firearm by licensed and permitted holders traveling to New Jersey from other states. If your attorney has knowledge and experience with weapons defense, they may be able to get you into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, whereby you can get the charges dismissed by complying with program requirements during a probationary term. For this reason, it is essential to consult a skilled lawyer who can go over your options.
Weapons Charges with Prior Convictions
All unlawful weapons possession charges are steep, but you face even long prison terms and high fines with prior convictions. For instance, convictions for owning an unlicensed machine gun, carrying an unpermitted handgun (unless an air gun, spring gun, or the like), owning an unregistered rifle or shotgun, or possessing an automatic weapon by anyone with prior convictions for these same crimes is a first degree crime with a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a $200,000.00 fine.
When You Need an Experienced Morristown NJ Lawyer for Unlawful Possession of a Weapon
So, you can see, New Jersey weapons possession laws are strict and the punishments severe. Moreover, a conviction and criminal record may hinder a person’s job and educational opportunities. If you or your loved one has been charged with illegally possessing a weapon, contact an experienced weapons defense attorney to defend your constitutional rights, challenge improper evidence-gathering procedures, and advocate for reduced sentences, dismissals, or diversionary programs. You need someone one your side who will work toward the top available outcome.
For instance, I recently represented a client who was charged with unlawful possession of an assault firearm, a second degree offense, in Hudson County Superior Court in Jersey City, New Jersey. My client was a former marine who had returned after doing two (2) tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was facing ten (10) years in State prison and a mandatory minimum without parole. After placing my client into an inpatient rehabilitation facility to deal with his alcohol dependence issues and extensive counseling, the prosecutor agreed to a probationary sentence. This plea agreement had to be approved by the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division in Hudson County because of the extraordinary nature of the plea. It was a tremendous result for my client and his family.
If you need help with an unlawful weapon case in Morris County or anywhere else in New Jersey, request a free consultation today and take the first step toward successfully defending your rights.