Charges stemming from the acquisition or mere possession of a firearm tend to come in three forms:
- Sale or Transfer of Firearms – Materially False Statement
- Firearms Not to be Carried Without a License
- Persons Not to Possess a Firearm
With each of these charges there can be different degrees of intent and different degrees of seriousness. However, at least the first two of the three can happen to anyone and a failure to be represented at even the earliest stage, the preliminary hearing, can dramatically alter the end result.
You have defenses and options when charged with making a "materially false statement" when purchasing a firearm. Why?
A charge which has exploded in recent years is one relating to the “Sale or Transfer of Firearms – Materially False Statement”. This happens when a person buys a firearm from a retailer and because of how they filled out the paperwork it is alleged by law enforcement that they made a materially false statement. The most common situation is the person who previously pled guilty to Driving Under the Influence or some other minor misdemeanor who then proceeds to fail to disclose the existence of that offense on the paperwork.
Eventually the paperwork is flagged and forwarded to the Pennsylvania State Police or some other municipal law enforcement entity. In those cases, it can be extremely important to have representation very early in the process, as early as the preliminary hearing, because it is not uncommon for your attorney to acquire a favorable resolution at that stage.
Even if good results cannot be attained immediately, it is important to have an attorney with significant trial experience on your side as the defense can be very nuanced as it requires a detailed understanding of the interplay between both the law and the facts as they relate to your intent.
As a general rule, the more rural the county the more harshly they will view any charge, including the illegal possession or acquisition of a firearm. This is especially true when talking about felonies. This dynamic in and of itself can significantly increase your risk of receiving a sentence of incarceration.
Your prior record is the other big factor when making an initial determination of the likely outcome in your case. Why?
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is generally not available for charges stemming from the illegal possession or acquisition of a firearm. As a result, you’re prior record matters. If it is significant, it is likely the Commonwealth will be unwilling to reach a negotiated resolution.
That dynamic can and often does lead to more trials and in some instances, harsher sentences and outcomes. As a result, it is important for you to be honest with your attorney about your prior record in order for him or her to choose the course of action which is best for your case.
At that hearing, credibility is not at issue. What I mean by that is the Judge MUST accept EVERYTHING the Commonwealth witness says as true. This dynamic can frustrate a person charged with an offense, most notably in circumstances where they believe the facts are being exaggerated or fabricated all together.
In that circumstance the defendant must understand that the preliminary hearing is only one stop in the criminal justice process. Even though the burden is very much tilted towards the Commonwealth at that stage, the hearing can still serve as a great place to cross examine witnesses and lock them into testimony which can be used at trial if need be.
I’m sure everyone has heard someone say, “he got off on a technicality”. That technicality generally refers to a case or a charge being dismissed because someone’s Constitutional rights were violated. The Constitution exists to make sure law enforcement doesn’t over step their bounds. The by-product of this dynamic is that a violation of a person’s Constitutional rights occasionally leads to a case or a charge being dismissed, especially with regards to the possession of a firearm.
In essence, the Constitution doesn’t allow law enforcement to pull someone over or search their person without a reason. It also doesn’t allow them to search a car or a house without basis. In the end, these are just a few of the issues that could be front and center in your case. It is important you and your attorney understand these issues as that understanding can be the difference between a conviction and incarceration and the charges being dismissed.
As one might expect, this is not an exhaustive list of the things you should be aware of as you navigate through the judicial system with charge relating to the illegal possession or acquisition of a firearm. However, it’s a good start.