California has many laws limiting the types of weapons a person may own in the state, prohibiting guns such as assault-weapons and machine guns. But even a firearm that is otherwise legal can be illegal if it was unregistered, stolen or if the serial number was altered or removed. Fortunately, there are defenses against all of these charges, though you should never attempt to defend yourself without a criminal attorney experienced with the intricacies of local San Diego weapon laws.
Possession of Unregistered Firearms
Technically, it’s legal to own an unregistered gun in California, but if you want to take the weapon out of your home, then you could end up in legal trouble. Under California Penal Code sections 25850 and 12031 (PC), a person caught carrying a loaded firearm on their person or vehicle in any public place has broken a crime if they are not listed as the registered owner.
If you are charged with carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a public place, you could face felony charges with penalties including up to three years in prison. If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense carries a sentence of up to one year in the county jail. Carrying a loaded firearm that is unregistered is even more serious if the weapon was concealed and you do not have a valid concealed carry license. In these cases, a conviction could mean up to three years behind bars. You could also face other charges and sentence enhancements if you used a firearm that was not registered under your name in another crime.
There are many defenses to these crimes, though each case varies based on the circumstance. The best way to avoid charges though is to obtain a certificate of eligibility if you borrow a firearm from someone you know for a period of less than 30 days. On the other hand, if you were caught transporting a gun that was not registered to you in your vehicle, your Southern California criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue that you were unaware that a deadly weapon was in your car at all. In some cases, you could also argue that you were not on public property or that the firearm wasn’t loaded when you were caught.
Possession of a Stolen Gun in California
It’s against the law to possess any kind of property if you know it is stolen, but if you were arrested carrying a stolen firearm in a public place, you can face two charges, receiving stolen property (496 (PC)) and carrying a firearm in public (25850 (PC)). Receiving stolen property can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, punishable by up to three years in prison. The penalties for 25850 (PC) are listed above, but are no more than one year in jail, though the crime is a felony.
Fortunately, it is possible to fight these charges. In fact, one of the best defenses against the crime of possessing stolen property is the simple argument that you didn’t know the weapon was stolen. It is often difficult for the prosecution to prove that someone was aware that something wasn’t stolen. While this defense may not work to defend you against charges related to carrying the weapon in public, if you have a certificate of eligibility (that may or may not be fabricated against your knowledge), then your defense attorney may still be able to use this strategy against the accusations.
Possession of an Unserialized Firearm
Under federal law, all guns manufactured after October 22, 1968 must bear a serial number to help identify them. Interestingly, firearms manufactured before this date do not need to have a serial number if they were manufactured without one, or if someone removed or altered the serial number before that date. If someone removed or altered the serial number on a gun that was manufactured before that date, but the modifications were made after October 22, 1968, then it is a crime to possess the weapon though.
For a long time, people could get around these laws by making their own guns by hand, but as of July 8, 2018, anyone who makes their own guns in California must apply for a serial number from the Department of Justice before completing the weapon. Overall, if a gun is not an antique and was not handmade prior to mid-2018, then it should have a valid serial number.
Under California Penal Code 12090 (PC), anyone who damages, alters or removes a serial number could be charged with a felony, punishable by time in state prison. If someone knowingly sells, buys, accepts, gives away or otherwise transfers a deadly weapon that has had the serial number altered or removed, they can be charged with a misdemeanor.
A criminal defense attorney may be able to fight these accusations by arguing the serial number was naturally worn off from use or scratched during an accident, but this defense will only work in some limited circumstances. In other circumstances, it could work to argue that the gun was either manufactured before October 22, 1968 or handmade before July 8, 2018.
If you have been accused of a crime involving an illegal firearm, you need to contact a criminal defense specialist immediately. You can schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss if you call (760) 643-4050.