The Possible Consequences of a New Jersey Firearms Conviction
New Jersey has some of the most restrictive weapons laws in the country. In fact, many people find themselves facing serious criminal charges without even realizing they were doing anything illegal. If you’ve been charged with a weapons crime in New Jersey, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you get a fair result.
What is Considered a Weapon in New Jersey?
When you mention weapons charges, most people immediately think of gun laws. However, prosecutors can bring weapons charges against you for much more than just guns – New Jersey law defines a weapon as “anything readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury.” As a result, the following would be included in New Jersey’s definition of a weapon:
- Any kind of knife
- Clubs and other bludgeons
- Brass knuckles
- Stun guns
- Firearms, including those that are unloaded or lacking a clip
- Any components that can be assembled into a weapon
As you may notice, New Jersey’s definition of a weapon is extraordinarily broad and can include almost anything, provided that it is capable of causing serious bodily harm. As a result, you can wind up charged with a weapons violation without even realizing that you were carrying a weapon.
Common New Jersey Weapons Charges
New Jersey’s laws pertaining to weapons are complex and can be difficult for non-lawyers to understand. However, weapons charges typically fall into one of the five following categories:
- Unlawful possession of a weapon. You are required to have a permit or license for any firearm in New Jersey. If you are caught with a firearm without a license, you could be charged with unlawful possession even if you weren’t doing anything else wrong.
- Possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes. It is illegal in New Jersey to possess a weapon with the intent of using it unlawfully. For example, it is illegal to purchase a knife if the prosecution can prove that you intended to use it to rob people – even if you didn’t actually rob anyone, and the knife was otherwise legal.
- Possession of illegal weapons. Some weapons are categorically illegal in New Jersey, and you could be charged with a crime simply for having them in your possession. For example, sawed-off shotguns, bombs, silencers, switchblade knives, or any firearm with the serial number filed off are all illegal to own in New Jersey.
- Possession of a weapon while committing a crime. If you have a firearm in your possession while committing another crime, you can be charged with a separate weapons charge, even if you didn’t use the firearm while committing the crime. If you had a knife or other weapon, the prosecution needs to prove that you intended to use it during the crime.
- Persons prohibited from owning a weapon. Certain people are prohibited from owning weapons, particularly firearms, under New Jersey law. This includes people with prior convictions for domestic violence or other violent crimes and people who have been committed to a mental institution.
New Jersey’s weapons laws are extremely broad, and it’s very easy for people to find themselves charged with a crime when they believed they were doing nothing wrong or when they honestly believed that they were acting within the requirements of the law. This is particularly challenging for people who are visiting or traveling through New Jersey. No matter the situation, an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges and get a fair outcome.
Potential Consequences of Weapons Charges
The potential consequences you face will depend on the crime you are charged with and the circumstances surrounding your case. New Jersey divides weapons charges into four degrees:
First-degree crimes such as armed robbery or kidnapping:
- Punishable by 10-20 years in prison
- The court may impose up to $200,000 in fines
Second-degree crimes (most New Jersey gun offenses):
- Punishable by 5-10 years in prison
- The court may impose up to $150,000 in fines
Third-degree crimes such as crimes involving knives or air rifles:
- Punishable by 3-5 years in prison
- The court may impose up to $15,000 in fines
Fourth-degree crimes such as possession of an illegal knife:
- Punishable by up to 18 months in prison
- The court may impose up to $10,000 in fines
As you can see, even minor crimes carry serious consequences. For third and fourth-degree weapons charges, there is a presumption that first-offenders will not have to serve time in prison, but this is only a presumption – there are no guarantees that you won’t go to jail if convicted.
The Graves Act
Criminal charges involving firearms are taken very seriously and carry heavy consequences in New Jersey. One example is the Graves Act, which imposes minimum prison sentences and parole ineligibility for certain firearm-related offenses. It originally applied only to the possession or use of a firearm during the commission of other crimes, but has been expanded to include the following:
- Unlawful possession of a firearm without a license or permit
- Possession of a sawed-off shotgun
- Possession of a defaced firearm
- Possession of a firearm in connecting with distributing drugs or possessing drugs with the intent to distribute
- Defacement of a firearm
- Manufacture, transport, or transfer of a machine gun, sawed-off shotgun, or assault firearm
- Possession of certain weapons by people convicted of a violent crime
Graves Act violations for the crimes listed above carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence, and those who are convicted cannot be eligible for parole until they have served between one-third or one-half of their sentence, or 3 years, whichever is greater.
The Graves Act also requires that additional prison time be added to the minimum sentence if you have been previously convicted of a crime involving a firearm. It will also impose a period of parole ineligibility.
Facing Weapons Charges? Contact New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Lauren Wimmer
If you’ve been charged with a weapons crime, you could be facing time in prison and heavy fines. In addition, you’ll have a criminal conviction on your record that could follow you for the rest of your life. Don’t jeopardize your future by thinking you have to face these charges on your own. You need someone who knows the law and has the experience to make sure you get a fair result. If you’ve been charged with a weapons crime in New Jersey, criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer will fight for your rights. Call us at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free and confidential consultation about your case.