Types of Weapons Charges
The New Jersey Criminal Code contains laws in Chapter 39 (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5) related to unlawful possession of weapons, which are defined as anything “readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury.” Weapons charges can result from simple possession of a weapon, even if it was not being used.
Weapons charges are commonly associated with the illegal possession of a firearm, but the list of illegal weapons is extensive and includes silencers, bump stocks, slingshots, and even certain types of knives.
Penalties for Weapons Charges
New Jersey has some of the harshest penalties for weapons offenses in the United States. The degree or seriousness of a charge depends on a number of factors, but the penalties are generally more significant for when dangerous weapons, such as firearms, were possessed and in circumstances where the weapon was used in the commission of a crime.
- Possessing a handgun without a valid permit is a crime in the second degree, punishable by up to ten (10) years in New Jersey State Prison.
- Unlawful possession of a machine gun, or an instrument or device that can be adapted to use as a machine gun, without a license to do so, is a second-degree crime, punishable by up to ten (10) years in New Jersey State Prison.
- Possessing a weapon (excluding a firearm) for an unlawful purpose is a crime in the third degree, punishable by up to five (5) years in New Jersey State Prison.
Fourth-degree charges, punishable by up to eighteen (18) months in New Jersey State Prison can be issued wherein a person knowingly and illegally possesses a weapon such as a:
- Stun gun
- Sand club
- Stiletto knife
- Metal knuckles
An important consideration pertaining to the illegal possession of items such as knives or handcuffs is that the person charged must have possessed the item “under circumstances not manifestly appropriate…” to fall within the criminal statute.
While often a judge or jury will decide whether the specific use of the weapon was appropriate, a person who possessed handcuffs because they were an actor in a play, for example, would not fall within this statute.
Common Defenses Against Weapons Charges
The defense approach to weapons charges varies depending on the circumstances, but due to the seriousness of the charge, a defense attorney must explore any and all avenues to fight the charges.
One defense is to challenge an illegal search and seizure. If the weapon was found in a car or home, and the police did not have a search warrant, the charges may be dismissed if the search falls outside what is permitted by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or New Jersey Constitution.
Further, the law contains many exemptions for possessing firearms. For example, generally speaking, a person does not need to obtain a permit to possess a firearm in their home. These exemptions are complex and fact specific.
Many individuals also forget the prosecutor must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, a defendant violated the law. Many times a defense attorney must spend countless hours studying the police reports, body worn camera footage, dash cam footage and witness statements to discover the weaknesses or holes in the prosecutor’s case.
Finally, the New Jersey Attorney General has issued guidance to County Prosecutors regarding admission into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program for individuals charged with firearms offenses. For instance, a person who is not a resident of New Jersey who obtained a permit to carry a firearm in another State may be eligible for a diversionary program, even though that permit is largely inapplicable in New Jersey.
While many of the penalties resulting from a conviction in weapons crimes are mandatory, a prosecutor has the discretion in some instances to reduce, or even eliminate, some of the most serious consequences. An experienced weapons charges attorney will balance applicable mitigating circumstances against aggravating factors applicable to the offense and the offender and zealously advocate for their client.
Aggravating factors might include:
- The circumstances and nature of the offense
- The extent of injury inflicted on the victim
- The defendant’s prior criminal history
Mitigating factors might include:
- The defendant’s conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to reoccur
- The defendant did not threaten or cause serious harm
- The defendant has no prior criminal history
Hire an Experienced Weapons Charges Attorney
If you are facing weapons charges in New Jersey, you need an experienced legal team at your defense to fight against the heavy penalties. New Jersey has some of the toughest weapons laws in the country, but you can contact Rosenberg | Perry & Associates for a free consultation. We’ll learn about your case and share how we can stand with you and fight your weapons charges.