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What Is a Straw Purchase?


11/4/2019

The purchase and sale of firearms in Pennsylvania are tightly regulated, and you can easily find yourself charged with a crime even if you didn’t intend to break the law. Gun crimes are prosecuted very aggressively in Pennsylvania and carry heavy penalties, and it’s quite common for prosecutors to charge defendants with crimes that they didn’t commit.

If you’ve been charged with a gun crime, the best thing you can do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer has the experience and knowledge you need to get a fair result. You don’t have to face your charges alone – call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Pennsylvania Law on Purchasing Firearms

There are two basic requirements imposed by Pennsylvania law when you are selling or purchasing a firearm:

  1. That the sale or purchase takes place at the place of business of a licensed gun dealer OR the county sheriff’s office;
  2. That the purchaser is the actual purchaser of the firearm and is not purchasing the gun for someone else.

To put it another way, you can purchase a firearm only for yourself and only at a licensed gun dealer’s store. If you are the seller, you can sell firearms only at your shop and to the actual purchaser. You could be charged with a straw purchase offense for failing to comply with either or both of these sections, as a seller or the purchaser.

The statute does provide some very limited exceptions. You do not need to comply with the law if the transfer falls into one of the following categories:

  1. The firearm is being transferred between spouses;
  2. The transfer is between a parent and child;
  3. The transfer is between a grandparent and a child.

Unless you fall within one of those categories, purchasing a firearm for someone else is prohibited under Pennsylvania law and is a chargeable offense.

The Consequences of a Straw Purchase Charge

There are a variety of potential penalties you could face depending on the circumstances of your case. A basic violation of Pennsylvania law pertaining to the transfer of firearms is a second-degree misdemeanor. While a misdemeanor charge may not sound serious, you face the following penalties:

  • 1 to 2 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $5,000.00

As you can see, even a basic straw purchase conviction can carry significant consequences. However, you could face harsher penalties in the following situations:

  • Selling or transferring a firearm to someone who is not permitted to possess a firearm under Pennsylvania law is a third-degree felony.
  • It is a third-degree felony to use a false ID or make any false written or oral statements in connection with the transfer of a firearm.

In Pennsylvania, a third-degree felony conviction carries the following potential punishments:

  • 3.5 to 7 years in state prison
  • Up to $15,000 in fines

If you have a prior straw purchase conviction, or you made multiple straw purchases for other people, you will be charged with a second-degree felony and face a 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence if convicted.

Additional Criminal and Civil Liability

It’s also worth pointing out that any licensed dealer who is involved in the transfer of a firearm and knows that the firearm will be used in connection with a crime may be held criminally liable for the subsequent crime. In other words, the dealer may be charged with robbery if they knew the firearm would be used in connection with a robbery. As a result, you could face charges for both the straw purchase and the subsequent crime.

Finally, the law expressly acknowledges that you may be held civilly liable for any losses for any injuries or losses that result from the straw purchase. This means that you could be sued for money damages by the victims of the subsequent crime in addition to facing criminal prosecution.

Defenses to a Straw Purchase Charge

If you are the seller of a firearm, you should first be aware that the best defense is demonstrating that you complied with the law. If you can show that you have a valid dealer license, sold the firearm at your place of business, and required the purchaser to complete the necessary forms, you cannot be convicted of a straw purchase charge. This is the case even if the purchaser lied to you or provided false information.

For any straw purchase charge, the prosecution must prove that you “knowingly and intentionally” violated the law. For example, the prosecution may not be able to convict you in the following situations:

  • You did not know that the seller was not a licensed firearm dealer.
  • The dealer did not require you to complete any paperwork or ask if you were the actual purchaser of the gun.
  • You purchased the gun but subsequently lent the gun to someone else who then used it in committing a crime.

If the prosecution cannot prove that you intended to make a straw purchase, you cannot be convicted. In addition, keep in mind that the prosecutor must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard of proof.

Lastly, you may be able to suppress the evidence against you if you can prove that your constitutional rights were violated. For example, you may have been subjected to an illegal search and seizure if the police did not have a search warrant or probable cause.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Straw purchase cases are complicated. They often involve multiple defendants and other charges, so an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the situation in order to formulate the best possible defense. You need to know how the law applies to your case, the procedural steps that will be required to defend yourself, and what facts will be persuasive in your favor.

Facing Gun Charges? Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Lauren Wimmer

Don’t leave your future in the hands of the prosecution. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer can fight for your rights and help you get the best possible outcome. If you would like to schedule a free consultation to learn more, call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or complete our online contact form today.