In New Jersey, simply possessing a firearm can lead to criminal charges carrying the potential for substantial fines and long-term imprisonment. The same is true for certain other types of weapons as well. Under Section 2C:39-5 and other provisions of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, individuals arrested for possession of firearms and other weapons can be charged regardless of whether or not they were involved in any other criminal activity and possessing a weapon during the commission of a crime can trigger an additional charge carrying additional fines and prison time.
New Jersey Gun Possession Laws
While certain types of weapons are completely banned in New Jersey, the law allows for the possession of many types of firearms with the appropriate license or permit. Unlicensed and unpermitted possession are considered unlawful possession in most (but not all) circumstances under Section 2C:39-5. Some of New Jersey’s penalties for unlawful possession of firearms include:
- Knowing possession of a machine gun without a license is a second-degree indictable offense carrying up to a $150,000 fine and five to 10 years of imprisonment.
- Knowing possession of a handgun without a carrying permit is also a second-degree indictable offense unless the propelling force of the gun is “spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air,” in which case possession without a carrying permit is a third-degree indictable offense. Third-degree indictable offenses are punishable by up to a $15,000 fine and three to five years of imprisonment.
- Knowing possession of a rifle or shotgun without a firearms purchaser identification card is a third-degree indictable offense.
- Knowing possession of a loaded rifle or shotgun is a third-degree indictable offense.
- Knowing possession of an operable assault firearm without a license is a second-degree indictable offense.
Additionally, even possession of a firearm with the appropriate license or permit can constitute a criminal offense in New Jersey if the possessor has “a purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of another.” Possession for unlawful purposes is a second-degree indictable offense under Section 2C:39-4.
It is also important to note that even if a person is licensed to have or carry a firearm in another state, that individual cannot have a firearm in New Jersey without a New Jersey permit. To be clear, a person who is licensed to have a firearm in 40 other states and is in possession of a firearm in New Jersey without a New Jersey permit is guilty of having a gun without a permit and faces a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a minimum of 3 ½ years without parole, unless the prosecutor agrees to a less severe sentence.
Prohibited Weapons in New Jersey
Section 2C:39-3 of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice flatly prohibits the possession of certain types of weapons. For example, in New Jersey, it is unlawful to knowingly possess:
- Sawed-off shotguns
- Firearm silencers
- Defaced firearms (other than antiques)
- Gravity Knives
- Switchblade knives
- Ballistic knives
Importantly, there are some exceptions. For example, it is permissible to possess the knives listed above if you have an “explainable lawful purpose.” The law also includes limited exceptions for law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces. However, if no exceptions apply, unlawful possession of these and other weapons can be prosecuted as a third- or fourth-degree indictable offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years or eighteen months.
Various Factors Can Increase the Penalties for Weapon Possession in New Jersey
The penalties discussed above are the standard penalties for unlawful weapon possession in New Jersey. But, there are various circumstances in which prosecutors can pursue enhanced charges and enhanced penalties. For example, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 and N.J.S.A. 23:4-24.1a provide that:
- Firearm Possession At a School – Knowingly possessing a firearm in or on the grounds of a school, college, university, or other educational institution “without the written authorization of the governing officer of the institution” is a third-degree indictable crime. Having a valid permit or firearms purchaser identification card is not a defense under this section of the law.
- Imitation Firearm Possession At a School – Knowingly possessing an imitation firearm at any educational institution without written authorization from the institution is a disorderly person's offense.
- Loaded Firearm in a Vehicle – Along with any other applicable penalties, anyone who is caught in possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle is subject to an additional fine of up to $200. When carrying a firearm in a motor vehicle, the firearm must be unloaded and “contained in a closed and securely fastened case, or locked in the trunk of the motor vehicle.” This is a fishing and game violation!!
N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 also provides that “[a]ny person who knowingly has in his possession any other weapon under the circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses as it may have is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.” In other words, even if you are lawfully in possession of a legal weapon, if you are found in possession of the weapon under circumstances that are clearly inappropriate for its legal use, you can be convicted of an indictable crime carrying up to a $10,000 fine and 18 months behind bars.
Potential Penalties for Firearm and Weapon Possession in New Jersey
Let’s say you are facing a firearm or weapon possession charge in New Jersey, and let’s say prosecutors have the evidence they need to convict you. What penalties could you face at sentencing if you get convicted in court?
- Jail or Prison Time – All firearm and weapon possession charges carry possible jail or prison time in New Jersey. Some of these crimes can be prosecuted as high as second-degree indictable offenses, which means that they can carry up to 10 years of imprisonment.
- Fines – The fines for firearm and weapon possession in New Jersey are also substantial. If you get convicted of a second-degree offense, you will be facing up to a $150,000 fine.
- Probation and Community Service – In addition to, or possibly in lieu of, jail or prison time, the judge may also sentence you to probation and/or community service. You will need to be careful to satisfy all of the terms of your sentence, as violating probation or failing to perform community service can lead to additional penalties.
- Loss of Rights – If you are convicted of an indictable offense involving firearm or weapon possession in New Jersey, you can lose your right to own a weapon. You can also lose your right to vote and your right to serve on a jury.
If you have a domestic violence conviction on your record, being arrested for firearm or weapon possession can lead to an additional charge under Section 2C:37-9 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes (“Certain Persons Not to Have Weapons or Ammunition”). Depending on the circumstances of your case, this can be a fourth, third or second-degree indictable offense, and it can carry penalties ranging from 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.
Defenses to Unlawful Weapon Possession Charges in New Jersey
If you have been charged with unlawful weapon possession in New Jersey, you may have a variety of defenses available. Along with the defenses that apply in all types of criminal cases (i.e., constitutional defenses and the prosecution’s inability to meet its burden of proof), some examples of additional defenses you may have include:
- You Weren’t “Knowingly” in Possession – Most of New Jersey’s prohibitions on weapon possession only apply to “knowing” possession. If you were unaware that there was a weapon in your home, office, or vehicle, this could provide you with a complete defense.
- You Only Had Temporary Possession – If you were only temporarily in possession of a firearm in connection with a transaction involving other parties, this could provide you with a defense as well.
- An Exception Applies – As noted above, there are various exceptions to New Jersey’s prohibitions on the possession of certain types of weapons. If one of these exceptions applies in your case, you should be able to avoid a conviction.
- You Had a License, Permit, or Firearms Purchaser Identification Card – Several of New Jersey’s prohibitions on weapon possession only apply to individuals who don’t have a license, permit, or firearms purchaser identification card. If you had one of these when you got arrested, this might provide a defense depending on the specific crime with which you are being charged.
Important Facts to Know About New Jersey’s Firearm and Weapon Possession Laws
Along with understanding New Jersey’s gun laws and the penalties you could face if you get convicted, there are some additional facts you should know about New Jersey’s firearm and weapon possession laws as well. Many people have misconceptions about the law, and relying on these misconceptions can cause you to make bad decisions that can jeopardize your defense. With this in mind, here are five important facts to know if you are facing charges:
- You need a permit to carry a handgun in New Jersey. You need a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card to possess a rifle or shotgun.
- If you are facing a gun possession charge, it doesn’t matter if your gun was concealed or unconcealed. The same laws, defenses and penalties apply.
- New Jersey law prohibits the possession of approximately 50 different types of assault firearms. Possessing any of these weapons, even in your own home, is a serious criminal offense.
- It is illegal to possess a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle. It is also illegal to shoot any gun from a vehicle across any roadway.
- It is illegal to possess any firearm on school grounds unless you are a law enforcement officer. Possessing a firearm on school grounds is a serious offense that can have both academic and criminal consequences.
Contact an Aggressive New Jersey Criminal Lawyer Today
If you are facing a weapons charge in New Jersey, it is important that you discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey criminal lawyer as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., call 1-877-435-6371 or contact us online today.