Essex County Defaced Firearm Lawyers
Serial numbers on firearms serve a practical and essential purpose for law enforcement. Each gun has a unique serial number to identify who owns the gun. Thus, if a gun connects to a crime or a lost or stolen firearm needs to be located, the serial number can be traced back to the owner. So, when someone changes or otherwise alters the serial number to make it useless for its intended purpose, the law in New Jersey punishes the one who defaces a firearm and the one who receives or possesses a defaced firearm.
A criminal defense attorney experienced with defaced firearm cases is your best asset in defending yourself against strict possession or defacing charges in New Jersey. Hiring a lawyer with the know-how to suppress evidence and keep the prosecution in check is an immeasurable advantage over representing yourself. At our criminal law firm, our lawyers have successfully defended all manner of weapons charges against our clients, including those for defaced guns and the act of defacing a firearm. We serve all of Essex County, including Bloomfield, Livingston, Millburn, Maplewood, Caldwell, Verona, and Cedar Grove. If you have been arrested for an unmarked weapon, contact our Newark NJ office at 201-654-3464 for immediate assistance. Our defense lawyers provide consultations at no cost, so do not hesitate to find the answers you need to protect your rights in a weapons case.
Possession of a Defaced Firearm in New Jersey
N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3d prohibits possessing a defaced firearm. A gun with a defaced serial number, model, or other information that identifies what the firearm is and who owns it, is illegal to have. Knowingly possessing a defaced weapon is a fourth degree crime punishable by a possible eighteen (18) month prison sentence and a $10,000.00 fine. An offender may be convicted of a fourth degree crime by purchasing, receiving, concealing, or disposing of a defaced weapon other than an antique firearm or handgun. Certain people, like law enforcement conducting official duties, military personnel acting legally and within their duties, are exempt from penalties for possessing a defaced firearm.
Possessing a firearm means exercising control over the weapon or having the ability to do so. The law intends actual possession to be one in which the person with the defaced firearm has known physical control over the gun and actual physical custody. On the contrary, constructive possession means the accused does not have the weapon in their physical possession but is aware that it exists and can exercise control over it. As such, a gun in a trunk that the accused drives may not physically be on their person but is within their control by being in a car they drive. Even if more than the defendant had actual or constructive knowing possession of the gun in the trunk, both shared constructive possession of it. Both actual and constructive possession of a defaced handgun or other weapon that qualifies as a firearm may prove sufficient for the purposes of proving a charge under N.J.S.A. 2C: 39-3d.
For possession, the prosecutor must also prove that the defendant knew they had a defaced firearm. Though knowledge is a challenging element to prove, a jury can infer a defendant’s state of mind from circumstances. Thus, a defendant’s conduct or the events may indicate the defendant knew of the firearm’s defacement. So, a prosecutor may show proof of the defendant’s attempt to hide the gun or other behavior that reveals a defendant’s concealment of the weapon from others. Perhaps statements the defendant made about the firearm’s origins or identity may show knowledge that they had a defaced firearm in their possession at some point.
NJ Crime of Defacing a Firearm
When it comes to defaced firearms in New Jersey, anyone who does the defacing may be convicted of a third degree crime violating N.J.S.A. 2C:39-9e. Defacing includes removing, covering, altering, destroying, or defacing the make, model, or serial number. A conviction for defacing a gun means the defendant faces a three (3) to (5) five year prison sentence and a $15,000.00 fine.
A conviction for violating N.J.S.A. 2C: 39-3d or N.J.S.A. 2C:39-9e is subject to the Graves Act, meaning a conviction for either crime involving a defaced firearm carries a minimum term in prison without parole eligibility.
What Qualifies as a Firearm?
To convict an accused of defacing a firearm or possessing a defaced firearm, the state prosecutor must first establish that the firearm is a firearm beyond a reasonable doubt. Firearms include handguns, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, automatic rifles, semi-automatic rifles, or any other weapon that fires a solid projectile or gas by igniting an explosive substance. That includes pellet, spring, air, and BB Guns too. The firearm does not have to be functional or loaded.
Defenses for an NJ Defaced Firearm Charge
Though a defendant may not have known of the defaced weapon when they purchased or otherwise received it, once the defendant became aware that the firearm was tampered with, they commit the crime of illegal possession if they continue to keep the weapon. Innocence in the receipt does not excuse the crime. There are other defenses to illegally possessing a defaced firearm, however. For example, how the subject weapon came into law enforcement’s hands matters. A skilled weapons defense attorney representing a defaced firearm defendant wants to know if the police conducted a legal search and lawfully seized the weapon. Thus, if the police searched you or your property without a warrant, your consent, probable cause, or a justifiable exception to obtaining a warrant, the search may violate your constitutional rights to privacy of your home, car, or person.
And if the police stopped you in your car and found the weapon, the legality of the stop may prevent the prosecution from introducing the gun into evidence. Police officers may not stop a vehicle without probable cause for the stop. Otherwise, random stops to fish for criminal behavior are not valid stops. A defense attorney may make a motion to suppress evidence seized by an illegal stop, search, and seizure. These are just a few examples of possible defenses to beat defaced firearms offenses in New Jersey, so having your case reviewed by an attorney to examine the facts and evidence is your best way to find out what you can use to your advantage.
Charged with a Defaced Gun Crime in NJ?
Being arrested and charged with a third degree or fourth degree crime for defaced firearm possession or defacing a weapon in New Jersey requires a solid defense. Contact our Newark office immediately to get a head start on your defense and find out if there may be ways to get your charges dismissed. Get a free consultation and call 201-654-3464 today.