Charged with Unlawful Possession of a Handgun?

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Unlawful Possession of a Handgun in New Jersey

Although Americans broadly have a right to bear arms as afforded by the U.S. Constitution, there are limits. In New Jersey, possession of handguns is highly regulated. For example, you need to fill out the proper application forms and obtain a permit.

At Rosenblum Law, our criminal defense attorneys have decades of collective experience representing people charged with handgun crimes. If you are in that situation, call us for a free consultation, and read this article to learn more about unlawful possession of handguns in New Jersey.

Understanding Unlawful Possession of a Handgun Laws in New Jersey

According to Section 2C:39-1 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, a handgun is any pistol, revolver, or other type of firearm that was designed to be fired with one hand. 

It is unlawful to possess a handgun in New Jersey, including an antique handgun, without the proper license. Violating this prohibition will result in a second-degree felony charge. If the handgun is an airgun, springgun, or pistol that uses compressed air, carbon dioxide, an elastic band, a spring, or another similar method to propel the bullet, the charge will be a third-degree felony. 

Also, if one is carrying a handgun in public, they must have liability insurance under Section-2c-58-4. Failure to have liability insurance while carrying a handgun in public is a fourth-degree felony.

Consequences of Unlawful Possession of a Handgun

Someone can face serious consequences if they are found guilty of unlawful possession of a handgun. Not only can they find themselves behind bars, but having a criminal record can also harm their career prospects and their ability to find housing. They also will lose their right to own firearms.

The amount of time someone may face in prison if convicted depends on the grading of the felony charge. If the charge is a second-degree felony, the defendant will face five to 10 years in prison if convicted. A conviction of a third-degree felony will mean three to five years in prison. If the charge is a fourth-degree felony, the sentence is 18 months. 

Factors Considered in Prosecuting Unlawful Possession of a Handgun

There are several elements the prosecution must prove in order to convict a defendant of unlawful possession of a handgun. In particular, it must prove that:

  • The defendant indeed physically possessed the handgun at the time alleged. 
  • The defendant was aware that he or she possessed the handgun. 
  • The weapon in question is legally considered a handgun. 
  • The defendant did not have the proper licensing that would otherwise allow the defendant to possess a handgun under the given circumstances. 

Potential legal defenses against a charge of unlawful possession of a handgun should aim to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case, which involves challenging one or more of the elements of the crime. This could mean arguing that:

  • The defendant was not actually in possession of the handgun during the alleged time. 
  • The defendant was not aware that they possessed the handgun. 
  • The object or device the defendant possessed was not legally considered a handgun. 
  • The defendant had the requisite licenses required to legally possess the handgun at the time.

The Graves Act

Asking for probation to avoid prison time after being convicted of unlawful possession of a handgun is no longer possible as a result of the 2008 expansion of the Graves Act. Previously, there were mandatory prison sentences only if the handgun was possessed for an unlawful purpose or was used during the course of committing certain other crimes. 

However, the Graves Act generally requires those convicted of mere unlawful possession of a handgun to serve at least one-half of the sentence imposed or 42 months, whichever is greater. The law does allow for an exception:  If the handgun is one in which a bullet that is less than three-eighths of an inch in diameter is propelled through compressed air, a spring, an elastic band, carbon dioxide, gas, or vapor, then the mandatory penalties do not apply during sentencing. 

The defendant can also avoid the Graves Act’s mandatory prison time upon conviction if the defendant applies for pretrial intervention (PTI). This would allow the trial judge to consider mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The judge would then be able to grant leniency and permit the defendant to not serve time behind bars. 

How Attorneys Can Assist Someone Accused of Unlawful Possession of a Handgun in New Jersey

Someone who is accused of unlawful possession of a handgun should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. During the initial consultation, the attorney will evaluate the defendant’s case by looking at the relevant facts and applying them to the pertinent laws. This will enable the attorney to explain to the defendant the possible consequences of a conviction and what legal defenses may be available. The defense strategies will be tailored to fit the defendant’s situation and the particular facts of the case. 

An attorney will also be able to negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges or lesser penalties. This could include making a bargain for PTI, which could allow the defendant to escape mandatory imprisonment required by the Graves Act. If necessary, the attorney will represent the defendant at trial and try to obtain an acquittal. 

While it may be tempting to save money and use the Public Defender as counsel, these attorneys are often less qualified and in most cases carry a large caseload which prevents them from devoting significant time and attention to their cases.


What constitutes unlawful possession of a handgun in New Jersey?

To constitute unlawful possession of a handgun in New Jersey, the accused must have been physically in possession of a handgun (as defined by law) at the alleged time. The accused also must not have been aware that they possessed the handgun. If the charge is based on the lack of proper permits, the defendant must in fact have lacked these permits at the time they were arrested.

What are the penalties for unlawful possession of a handgun?

The penalties vary for illegally possessing a handgun, depending on the severity of the specific felony charge. A second-degree felony can result in a prison term of five to 10 years. A fourth-degree felony charge for failing to have necessary liability insurance while carrying a handgun in public will result in an 18-month sentence. 

Can I lose my right to own firearms if convicted of unlawful possession of a handgun?

Yes. If you are convicted of unlawful possession of a handgun in New Jersey, you will have a felony on your record, which means you will be prohibited from owning a handgun.

Are there any exceptions or defenses for unlawful possession of a handgun?

There are no exceptions to unlawful possession of a handgun in New Jersey. Everyone must have the necessary permits and liability insurance in order to legally possess a handgun. However, there may be a variety of legal defenses available to you, depending on the specifics of the case.

Can the charge of unlawful possession of a handgun be expunged from my record?

Yes. You can have an unlawful possession of a handgun expunged from your record as long as you meet certain criteria. 

Should I plead guilty or fight the charges?

The specific circumstances of the case will dictate how likely you are to secure an acquittal at trial. In many cases, it is a good idea to plead guilty in exchange for leniency in sentencing.

Call a Rosenblum Law Criminal Defense Attorney for a Free Consultation

A conviction for unlawful possession of a handgun comes with mandatory prison time in New Jersey, so a strong legal defense is essential. It could be the difference between preserving your freedom and ending up in jail.

Rosenblum Law’s experienced criminal defense attorneys are ready to provide you with a vigorous defense. One of them will guide you through the entire process. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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