In California it is illegal for a felon to possession a weapon. Penal Code 12021 states that no convicted felon may purchase, receive, own or possession a firearm. But what does “possession” of a firearm mean? Does it mean that a convicted felon must have physical possession on their person to be in violation? No. In addition to physical possession, it is illegal for a felon to have constructive possession of a firearm. Constructive possession means that a felon cannot have a gun in their house or car. It doesn’t matter whether or not the felon is present with the weapon. If the weapon is in their home or car, this is considered constructive possession and is thus a violation of the law.
There are three classes of individuals that are prohibited from possessing a firearm:
1. A felon, meaning any person who has been convicted of a crime, whether violent or not, that is punishable by a prison term of more than one year.
2. Any person who has been convicted of certain misdemeanors.
3. Any person who is addicted to a narcotic drug.
Lets take a closer look at the three classes mentioned above:
What is a Felon: A felon is anyone who has been convicted of a felony offense, in any state, under the United States Federal Law, that results in a felony punishment, or is sentenced to a federal facility for more than 30 days and a fine of more than $1,000.00.
Specific Misdemeanor Convictions: If you own, possess or receive a gun and are convicted of violating any of the following penal codes: 12021(a), 12021(b), or 12021.1. Other misdemeanor offenses that may apply are: assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a weapon and some sex crimes.
Anyone Addicted to a Narcotic: Someone who is addicted to a narcotic is considered to be emotionally and physically dependent on that narcotic and thus have a tolerance to its effects.
What Must the Prosecution Prove to be Convicted of Violating the Felon with a Firearm Law:
1. You must fall within one of the above categories.
2. You must have owned, possessed, bought or received a firearm.
3. You knew of the presence of the firearm.
Lets take a closer look at numbers 2 and 3 above for purposes of defenses to the charge of felon in possession of a firearm. For the prosecution to prove that you “owned, possessed, bought or received” a firearm, it must be proved that you did in fact possess a firearm.
An example might be that the defendant is living and/or renting a room in a home where the homeowner has a firearm. While on formal probation, a random search of the defendant’s place of residence reveals a firearm in the home. Because the homeowner owns the firearm, and the defendant did not have constructive possession of it, he cannot be charged with felon in possession of a firearm.
Another example might be that you borrowed a friend’s car. The friend has a firearm, which he keeps under the seat of his car. You get pulled over and the police officer notices part of the firearm sticking out from under the seat. The officer will, more than likely, arrest you for felon in possession of a firearm. However, if it can be proved that: 1) you are not the owner of the car and 2) the firearm belonged to the owner of the car, then you are not guilty because you had no knowledge of the presence of the firearm.
A conviction for felon in possession of a firearm can carry severe penalties. The crime itself can result in a felony conviction under certain circumstances. This then increases the exposure of prison time that the defendant is facing. The more felony convictions a person has, the longer the prison sentence prosecutors will seek.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for or being charged with, felon in possession of a firearm, it is important to hire a criminal defense lawyer who has experience in the County in which the case is pending. Sometimes early intervention, before the charges are even filed, can result in the prosecution rejecting the case without ever being filed.