Firearm and Weapons Crimes: Know Your Rights

Weapons crimes are controlled under both State and Federal laws. These laws are constantly changing and evolving, so it is important to stay up-to-date with the current firearms and weapons laws in Minnesota.

Common firearms and weapons crimes include:

  • Possession of an unregistered gun
  • Carrying a weapon without a permit
  • Brandishing a firearm
  • Possession of a firearm by a minor
  • Unlawful sale of a firearm
  • Intentional discharge, reckless discharge, or another unlawful use of a weapon
  • Illegal transport of weapons
  • Loaded firearm in a vehicle
  • Illegal possession of assault weapons
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm in public
  • Terroristic threats involving a weapon
  • False statement of gun applications
  • Negligent storage of a firearm

Weapon crimes are especially serious and can automatically escalate the severity of the crime when they are committed in conjunction with other criminal acts such as theft crimes, sex crimes, or drug crimes. For example, an assault accusation can quickly become aggravated assault or even attempted murder when a weapon is involved.

Possession

Many times people are charged with a crime because they are a person who is ineligible to possess a firearm or possess an illegal firearm. It is important to understand that if you are a person ineligible to possess a firearm you can still be charged with a crime even if it isn’t yours or even in your hands.
Who may not possess a firearm?

Under Minnesota Law, those who may be prohibited from possessing a firearm include:

  • youth under age 18
  • convicted felons
  • mentally ill individuals
  • illegal drug users
  • chemically dependent individuals
  • peace officers admitted for chemical dependency treatment
  • people charged with a crime of violence
  • domestic violence offenders
  • fugitives
  • illegal aliens
  • those dishonorably discharged from the armed services
  • people who have renounced their citizenship

So what does “Possession” mean?

The Government can prove that you were in possession of a firearm by either actual possession or constructive possession.  Actual possession is pretty self-explanatory, but even if the firearm is not in your hands at the time, you can still be in constructive possession.

In order to prove constructive possession the Government must show:

  1. that the firearm was found in a place under your exclusive control to which other people did not normally have access, or
  2. if the firearm was found in a place to which others had access, there is a strong probability (inferable from other evidence) that you were at the time consciously exercising dominion and control over it.

State v. Florine, 226 N.W.2d 609, 611 (Minn. 1975)

This means that even if the firearm is not yours there is still an assumption that it is in your possession when it is in your home or your vehicle. Thus you are assumed to be in control of the items within these places. That same is true if you are the driver in someone else’s car, similar to drug possession cases.

For example in State v. Cusick, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined the driver, who borrowed his girlfriend’s car, was in constructive possession of cocaine. The Court found that there was enough evidence to establish possession even when most of the property was not the driver’s because he was the only one in the vehicle and the cocaine was in the seat next to him.

Remember the government only needs to establish “probable cause” to charge you with the crime of illegal possession of a firearm.  This means to charge you they do not have to have conclusive proof that you are in possession but only enough circumstantial evidence that you were in constructive possession.

A common example includes:
You are driving your vehicle with several friends in the car.  Your friend, the front seat     passenger has a firearm that you do not know about, and he puts it under his seat, and everybody goes into a house party.  A fight breaks out at the house party and you take off in your car without your friends.   You are pulled over by a police officer and your car is subsequently searched and they find the gun under the front passenger seat.  You are not eligible to possess a firearm because you pled guilty to a felony five years earlier for possessing a small amount of cocaine.  You can and likely will be arrested for being in “constructive possession” of your friend’s firearm that you did not know about.  The reason is that you are driving your car, the gun is found in your car under the passenger seat, and you are not eligible to be in possession of a gun.  This charge carries a     mandatory minimum 60 month prison sentence in Minnesota.

Penalties for illegal possession.

One of the most serious gun crimes involves the possession of a firearm by a felon. According to Minnesota Statute §624.713, when a felon is caught in possession of a firearm after committing a violent crime, he or she will face a potential maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $30,000, or both. Those who have been convicted of other non-violent felonies will face a gross misdemeanor charge for possession of a firearm and potential penalties of up to one year in jail, a fine of $3,000, or both.

Permit to Carry

In Minnesota, you are required to have a valid permit to carry in order to possess a handgun in a public place. The penalties for carrying a handgun without a valid permit are strict. For a first offense it is a gross-misdemeanor and any repeat offense becomes a felony. It is your burden to prove that you have a valid permit to carry when requested by law enforcement.

Alcohol Consumption While Carrying a Handgun

Minnesota’s gun laws do not prohibit a person from carrying a handgun into a bar or from consuming alcohol, while in possession. The laws do, however, prohibit a person from carrying a firearm when they are under the influence of alcohol or when their blood-alcohol content is at .04 or greater. Violating this law can result in a misdemeanor, or in some cases a gross-misdemeanor, along with the revocation of your permit to carry for one-year.

Duty to Render Aid

If you are ever involved in a situation where you discharge your firearm and know or should know that you injured another person you must investigate the injury and render reasonable assistance to that person. The only exception is if you can prove that you reasonably perceived a significant risk of harm to yourself or others. Failure to render aid will result in a gross-misdemeanor, or in some cases a felony depending on the extent of the person’s injuries.

Sale

Buying or selling a firearm requires the parties to have the proper certifications or proper permits to purchase. Purchasing a firearm between private parties does not require any registration or background checks. However, there are penalties in Minnesota for selling to someone who is prohibited from possession.
It is a gross-misdemeanor to intentionally transfer a firearm to another knowing that the transferee is disqualified by law from possessing the weapon.  This becomes a felony if the transferee possesses or uses the weapon in furtherance of a felony crime of violence within one year after the transfer unless they become eligible to possess before committing the crime. It is important to protect yourself and understand these laws before purchasing or selling a firearm because the penalties can be severe.

Minnesota has established strict laws regarding the use and possession of firearms. These are serious offenses and can result in harsh penalties such as jail time, prison time and costly fines.  A conviction for a firearm crime can prohibit you from possessing any type of gun, including the loss of the right carry a gun for hunting purposes.

Sieben & Cotter, PLLC represents clients who are charged with all types of weapons crimes. These crimes can be as simple as failing to purchase the proper permit to carry a firearm to using a firearm in conjunction with another criminal offense such as burglary or drug trafficking.

If you are charged with a weapons crime, call us at 651-455-1555 to schedule a comprehensive consultation at no charge to you. We will listen to your story carefully and help you determine the appropriate course of action. You can also send a request for more information.