Charged with First-Time Gun Offense in New Jersey?

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First Offense Gun Charges in New Jersey

Being charged with a gun offense for the first time is a serious matter because of the state’s strict gun laws and the steep penalties for violating them. Most first-offense gun charges are due to illegal possession of a firearm. 

A first-offense gun charge can lead to a prison term of five to 10 years, and in many cases, three of those years must be served before being eligible for parole (and in some cases parole is not even an option). That is why you should contact Rosenblum Law if you are facing a gun charge. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will represent you and try to get the charges dismissed or reduced. 

In this article, we explain first-offense gun charges in New Jersey, including what these charges typically are, the penalties, and possible defenses.

Understanding First Offense Gun Charge Laws in New Jersey

Section 13:54-1.2 of the New Jersey Administrative Code defines different types of guns. A handgun is any gun that is designed to be held and fired with one hand. A shotgun or rifle is also a gun, as is an assault weapon. The law provides a list of specific assault weapons.

A first-offense gun charge in New Jersey is typically a charge of unlawful possession. Possession of a gun for unlawful purposes is another potential charge. To qualify as a first-offense gun charge, the accused must never have been accused of a gun violation in any state. 

Many first-offense gun charges result from the defendant being unaware of New Jersey gun laws. For example, it is illegal to carry a gun without a concealed-carry permit unless that gun is being transported to a firing range. It is also necessary to have a Firearm Identification Card (FID) to legally purchase guns and ammunition in New Jersey. 

However, a FID is not required to own a gun legally purchased in another state. In that case, you only need a FID to purchase ammunition, and registration is not strictly required in New Jersey. 

In addition, there is no requirement for a FID for guns passed down through inheritance. However, if you have a handgun, you must still get a permit to carry the weapon if you are a New Jersey resident. 

Consequences of First-Offense Gun Charges

The potential penalties for first-offense gun charges are serious. Most gun charges in New Jersey are second-degree crimes punishable by 5-10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A second-degree crime is a felony. Felons are not allowed to own guns, so a conviction also affects future firearm rights. 

Second-degree crimes include unlawful possession of a gun, possession of a prohibited gun, and possession of a gun for unlawful purposes. These are the most common first-offense gun charges. 

Third-degree gun charges involve an airsoft or BB gun. The sentence for a third-degree crime is three to five years. However, unlike crimes that fall under the Graves Act, first-offense gun charges in this category rarely result in jail time. Parole and community service are typically imposed instead. 

The Graves Act

The Graves Act makes some first-offense gun charges even more serious than some other felony crimes. Under the Graves Act, for some gun crimes, a minimum term of three years or half of the sentence (whichever is greater) must be served before getting parole. In addition, the The Graves Act states that if convicted of a first-degree gun charge, there is no possibility of parole. 

The Graves Act applies to the following gun charges:

It is possible to avoid prison for first-offense gun charges by participating in New Jersey’s Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program if one does not have a criminal history. An application must be submitted with the support of the prosecuting attorney for the PTI Program after charges have been filed but before the trial. 

Under the PTI Program, the defendant is placed under supervision by a probation officer. The terms of probation vary but always include staying crime-free and staying employed. At the end of the PTI period, the charges are dismissed. This not only allows the defendant to avoid jail time, but it also protects the criminal record and future gun rights. 

Defenses to First-Offense Gun Charges

There are several defense strategies that might result in key evidence being thrown out, which could force prosecutors to reduce or dismiss the charges. 

  1. Challenging consent of the search. One must consent to a search without a warrant for it to be legal in New Jersey. There is typically a form that must be signed before the search begins. If this form is not signed or is completed incorrectly, consent to search can be challenged. 
  2. Challenging the legality of the search. Even if consent is given, the search might be illegal. An illegal search is one that is conducted without probable cause or with a bad warrant. 
  3. Challenging a bad warrant. If the search warrant wasn’t completed correctly or accurately represents what would be found, it could be thrown out along with the evidence found during the search.

Those who inherited their guns, moved to New Jersey in possession of legally purchased guns, or are traveling through New Jersey might also use the defense that they own the gun legally. This is because registration is not required, and a FID is not needed for these guns. 

How an Attorney Can Assist Someone Accused of a First Offense Gun Charge in New Jersey

In the initial consultation and case evaluation, it is essential that you relate every detail you can recall as to what happened and how the gun was found. This could be vital to your defense. 

An experienced criminal defense attorney will assist from there in a number of ways, including gathering evidence and witness testimony to determine the best defense(s) to the gun charges. The attorney also will negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges and penalties. 

Plea bargains are common in first-offense gun charges. Barring this, a PTI Program application can be prepared by the attorney to present to the prosecutor and probation office. If negotiations fail, the attorney will represent their client at trial.

Finally, an attorney can advise on legal rights, how the gun laws of New Jersey apply, and potential consequences. For example, a conviction of a second-degree gun charge in New Jersey is a felony that restricts one’s rights in the future. 

Frequently Asked Questions about First Offense Gun Charges in New Jersey

What constitutes a first offense gun charge in New Jersey?

Any gun charge against an individual without a prior criminal record is a first-offense gun charge. The most common first-offense gun charge is illegal possession of a weapon.

What are the penalties for a first-offense gun charge?

Most first-offense gun charges are second-degree crimes. A second-degree crime is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Third-degree gun charges can result in a three- to five-year prison term.

Can I lose my right to own firearms if convicted of a first-offense gun charge?

Yes, you can lose your right to own firearms if convicted of a first-offense gun charge. Gun charges in New Jersey are felony charges. Convicted felons may not legally own guns in the state. 

Can a first-offense gun charge be expunged from my record?

If you participate in the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, the charges will be expunged from your record when the program is completed. It may be possible to have charges expunged from your record in other circumstances as well. It is best to discuss your particular case with an attorney.

Should I plead guilty or fight a first-offense gun charge?

You should always fight a first-offense gun charge. The penalties are very steep, and you should not plead guilty and accept them willingly. Contact an attorney as quickly as possible to represent you.

Call a Rosenblum Law Criminal Defense Attorney Today

First-offense gun charges are serious, even if you have no prior criminal record. It is important to seek legal representation to mount a vigorous defense. 

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rosenblum Law will fight to get the charges dismissed or reduced. Don’t go it alone or settle for a public defender – contact us today to schedule your free consultation

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