John Helms, Dallas criminal defense lawyer discusses his approach for defending clients charged with possession of a firearm
When I was a federal prosecutor, one of my best friends specialized in prosecuting federal firearms offenses. I handled some of those cases, too, both at trial and on appeal, but we had a specific program dedicated to going after gun crime. That program had a slogan: “Gun Crime Means Hard Time,” offers Helms, Dallas criminal defense lawyer. The term “gun crime” applies to a lot of different types of cases, including possession of illegal weapons and ammunition and taking a weapon to a prohibited place. The most common type of gun case, though, is a “felon-in-possession” case at the federal level, or Unlawful Possession of a Weapon (“UPW”), at the state level. These types of cases involve the possession of a firearm by someone who has been convicted of a felony. If you have been convicted of a felony, it is illegal for you to possess a firearm.
After a felony conviction, Texas law prohibits you from possessing a firearm within five years after you have been released from prison, community supervision, parole, or mandatory supervision, whichever is LONGEST. This means, for example, that if you are sent to prison and released on parole, the five years begins to run after you are finished with parole. Even after that period expires, though, you are ONLY allowed, under Texas law, to possess a firearm in your home or residence.
Here is the problem: Federal law says that, if you have a felony conviction, you cannot possess a firearm for the rest of your life. So, if you have been convicted of a felony, the federal government can prosecute you for possessing a firearm no matter how long ago your conviction or release from prison, supervision, or parole was. Why can they do that? Because Texas law does not trump federal law. The fact that you can possess a firearm under Texas law does not mean it is legal under federal law.
Most cases under either state or federal law come down to whether the accused was knowingly “possessing” the gun. Many people accused of illegally possessing a gun say, “It wasn’t my gun.” That does not matter. You can possess a gun even though it does not belong to you. Possession means that you have the ability to exercise control over it. You can do that whether the gun belongs to someone else or not.
The law says that people with felony convictions cannot possess a gun because our society believes that it is too dangerous to allow convicted felons to have guns. Think about this: You can rob a bank with someone else’s gun. You can shoot someone after an argument with someone else’s gun. That gun is just as lethal even though it belongs to someone else. So, the danger that the law is trying to stop is not lessened because the gun belongs to someone else.
Defending gun possession cases usually involves focusing on whether the accused knew that gun was wherever the police found it. If you do not know anything about the gun, you cannot knowingly possess it.
For example, lots of guns are discovered in cars during a traffic stop. They are often under the seat or somewhere like that. If you are just temporarily borrowing the car from someone else, there is a chance that the owner of the car left it there without telling you, and you did not know the gun was there. That might be the reasonable doubt you need.
A good criminal defense lawyer will investigate all of the circumstances of how and where the gun was discovered. If it was found in your pants pocket, you are probably out of luck, because you were in control of it, and it is hard to claim you didn’t realize there was a gun in your pocket. But if the situation is less clear, it is important to have a diligent defense lawyer to make sure that your rights are protected.
If you, a family member or someone you know has been charged with possession of a firearm or any other in the Dallas area, contact Dallas criminal defense lawyer John Helms at (214) 666-8010 or fill out the online contact form. You can discuss your case, how the law may apply and your best legal options to protect your rights and freedom.