Charges Related to Firearms and Weapons in New Jersey
New Jersey Attorney Matthew V. Portella Defends People Charged with Weapons and Gun Crimes
New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. These laws are designed to limit access to dangerous weapons, increase penalties for crimes committed while using a weapon, and reduce the potential for gun violence. Unfortunately, people can wind up with a weapons charge without realizing they were doing anything wrong. Once charged, the complexity of these laws can make it difficult to avoid conviction.
New Jersey criminal defense attorney Matthew V. Portella can help you defend these charges and get a fair result. Understanding that your future is at stake, he provides his clients with an aggressive and dedicated defense. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with Mr. Portella, please call us at (856) 310-9800 or contact us online as soon as possible.
Potential Consequences of a Weapons Charge
Weapons charges are considered very serious crimes in New Jersey that carry harsh penalties. The Graves Act statute that governs weapons offenses imposes minimum sentencing requirements and restricts parole eligibility in cases involving convictions for firearms and other weapons. Depending on the charge and the circumstances surrounding your case, you could be facing the following penalties:
- Fourth-degree weapons offenses
- Up to 18 months in prison
- Up to $7500 in fines
- Third-degree weapons offenses
- Up to 5 years in prison
- Up to $15,000 in fines
- Second-degree weapons offenses
- Up to 10 years in prison with a mandatory period of parole ineligibility (called a “stip”) of between 1 and 3 ½ years
- Up to $150,000 in fines
As you can see, weapons charges carry considerable possible time in prison and harsh fines. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you defend these charges and possibly avoid a conviction.
What Constitutes a Weapon in New Jersey?
First and foremost, it is critical to understand that New Jersey gun laws are very broad. New Jersey law defines a weapon as “anything readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury.” The law then goes on to enumerate several examples:
- Various types of knives
- Various types of clubs and bludgeons
- Brass knuckles
- Stun guns
- Tear gas guns
- Any components that can be readily assembled into a weapon
- A BB gun, air gun, spring gun or pistol, or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person.
Of course, the statute expressly states that this is not an exhaustive list – the examples it provides are only for purposes of illustration. As a result, many people wind up facing weapons charges without even knowing that they were carrying a weapon in the first place.
Weapons Charges in New Jersey
New Jersey has an extensive and complex system of weapons laws that are not easy for non-lawyers to navigate. There are five key categories of weapons charges in New Jersey:
- Unlawful possession of a weapon
- Possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes
- Illegal weapons
- Possession of a weapon while committing a drug crime
- Persons prohibited from owning or possessing a weapon, referred to as “certain persons offenses”.
Unlawful Possession of a Weapon
New Jersey law requires you to have a permit or license for any firearm. In addition, New Jersey does not recognize licenses or permits from other states. As a result, the state can charge you with unlawful possession of a weapon under New Jersey law for having any of the following unlicensed weapons, even if you have anout-of-state license for them:
- Air rifles or pistols
- Machine guns or any “device adaptable for use as a machine gun”
The severity of the crime will vary according to the nature of the weapon.
New Jersey also criminalizes possessing “any other weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses.” This can apply to many situations, such as possessing a legal paintball gun but using it to shoot at drivers, or lawfully possessing a gun at the airport. Again, New Jersey law is extremely broad when it comes to weapons charges.
Finally, New Jersey prohibits the possession of firearms or other weapons anywhere on the grounds of any school or educational institution. Unless you have permission from the “governing officer” of the school, it is illegal regardless of whether or not you have a license or permit for the weapon.
Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purposes
New Jersey law also prohibits the possession of firearms and other weapons “with a purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of another.” You can be charged with possessing a weapon for unlawful purposes even if you had a valid license for the weapon and presumably had not committed any other crime. However, the prosecution must prove that you intended to use the weapon for some illegal purpose, such as committing an assault or armed robbery. Proving intent is not easy to do but bringing charges based on intent an easy way to “overcharge” criminal defendants.
There are some weapons that lawmakers deem so dangerous that simply possessing them is illegal under New Jersey’s weapons laws. The following weapons and devices prohibited by New Jersey are as follows:
- Explosive devices
- Sawed-off shotguns
- “Defaced weapons” such as guns with the serial number filed off
- Various specific types of knives: gravity knives, stilettos, daggers, switchblades
- Brass knuckles
- Billy clubs, blackjacks, and sand clubs
- Armor penetrating bullets
- Stun guns
The law does provide exceptions for law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces, and weapons dealers with the appropriate federal firearms license.
Possession of a Weapon While Committing a Crime
New Jersey has made it a separate crime to possess a weapon while committing a crime. The state can charge you with unlawful possession for simply having a firearm on your person during the commission of another crime. For other weapons such as knives, prosecutors must prove that you intended to use the weapon while committing the crime.
In addition, possessing a weapon during the commission of intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance is a second-degree crime, which carries with it a 5 to 10 year state prison sentence that must run consecutively to the drug offense sentence.
Persons Prohibited from Owning a Weapon (Called “Certain Persons” Offenses)
New Jersey also makes it illegal for certain people to own weapons at all, particularly firearms:
- People previously convicted of violent crimes, regardless of whether they used a weapon in the commission of that crime
- Any person who has been committed to an institution for a mental institution
- Any person with a prior conviction for domestic violence
If one of these categories applies to you, you could be facing a second-degree weapons charge if you possess a weapon, which means that you are facing 5 to 10 years in New Jersey prison. Note that the conviction or mental institutionalization from another state can still subject you to these prohibitions.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew V. Portella Can Help You Face Your Weapons Charges
As mentioned above, New Jersey weapons laws are extremely complex and carry harsh penalties. If convicted, you could be sentenced to years in prison and subjected to thousands of dollars in fines. After you’ve served your time and paid your fines, your criminal record could make it difficult to find a job, and you will have to deal with the public stigma of a criminal conviction.
If you’re facing charges, the best thing you can do is contact an experienced weapons charges attorney as soon as possible. With 25 years of experience, criminal defense attorney Matthew V. Portella represents people who have been charged with weapons crimes and makes sure that they get the possible defense and a fair result. Please call the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, at (856) 310-9800 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation to talk about your case and how we can help.
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“I want to thank Mr. Portella for taking my case. What an amazing law office and attorney. He is very professional and got all of my charges dismissed. If I ever need an attorney again, Mr. Portella will be the one I call. Thank you again!”-A.M.
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