While Pennsylvania’s gun laws are relatively lenient, there are multiple firearms charges that could result in serious penalties and felony convictions. In Pennsylvania, gun crimes are normally based on violations of laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by certain people, carrying a concealed weapon without a license, or possessing a firearm with an altered manufacturer’s number. Each of these offenses is a felony crime. If you are facing any of these types of offenses, it is critical for your criminal defense lawyer to raise a strong defense. Below are some of the types of defense strategies that an attorney at DiCindio Law might use to defend against firearms charges.
Using information from the preliminary hearing
At a preliminary hearing, the court will determine whether there is probable cause to support the state’s charges against a defendant. In illegal firearm cases, courts generally find sufficient probable cause, meaning that dismissal at the preliminary hearing is unlikely. However, the burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is much lower than what is required at trial, so just because a case might be bound over for trial after a preliminary hearing does not necessarily mean that a defendant will be convicted of the offense.
Going to a preliminary hearing can still be valuable. Your lawyer can gather information during the preliminary hearing to support motions to suppress evidence or motions to attack any search warrant. A preliminary hearing will allow your attorney to listen to the state’s presentation of evidence to identify potential issues, including actual or constructive possession.
Eyewitness and confidential informant credibility
The credibility of any eyewitness or confidential information in or case can be challenged by your attorney both during the pre-trial stage through motions and at trial. For example, if the police relied on a confidential informant to charge you with a gun crime, your lawyer can file a motion demanding the prosecutor to produce the CI.
This can allow your attorney to gather further information in discovery about the CI, including any payments he or she received from the prosecutor in exchange for providing information and any favorable treatment he or she might have received in his or her own criminal case. These types of issues can be used to demonstrate that the testimony of a confidential informant is unreliable.
Eyewitnesses and confidential informants who are called to testify at trial can be cross-examined. Your attorney will want to analyze their backgrounds to look for any issues that could impact their credibility. While your attorney might not be allowed to attack a witness’s character, he or she is still allowed to impeach a witness using prior statements or to show that he or she has a reason to provide less-than-credible information. For example, if a confidential informant has an agreement with the police department in which he or she is paid a certain amount for providing information about others, the payment agreement could be used to demonstrate his or her motive to provide information that may or may not be true. Similarly, if a confidential informant has an
agreement to secure a dismissal of his or her charges or to receive a plea to a lesser offense based on providing information, that could also be used to challenge his or her credibility.
Constructive possession defenses
In some gun crimes cases, the prosecutor’s theory will be based on the defendant’s constructive possession of a firearm. Constructive possession means that a weapon was found in an area close enough to you to be under your immediate control instead of you having it on your person. For example, if you were pulled over while driving a car, and the police found a gun wedged in between the passenger seat and the console, the prosecutor might argue that you had constructive possession of it.
In constructive possession cases, your attorney will look at other people who were nearby who might have actually owned the gun with which you are charged. He or she might also investigate to learn who had access to the location where the illegal firearm was found. These types of issues might help to create enough reasonable doubt to result in an acquittal.
Lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause
Before a police officer can stop you or your vehicle, he or she must have a reasonable suspicion that you have violated the law. Reasonable suspicion cannot be an inarticulable hunch but must be based on facts that can be articulated by an officer based on his or her training and experience. For example, if you are simply walking on a sidewalk wearing a hoodie, that is not enough to support a finding of reasonable suspicion for an officer to stop you. Similarly, if a police officer thinks you look suspicious when you drive past him or her but does not see you commit any type of traffic offense, that is also not enough to support reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle.
Your attorney will also review whether or not the officer had enough probable cause to support a search of your vehicle or of your person. He or she will also review your arrest to determine whether or not it was supported by probable cause. If the officer lacked reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause, your attorney will file a motion to challenge your stop, search, or arrest and request that the judge suppress the evidence that was unlawfully gathered.
In general, officers must secure a search warrant before they can search your vehicle, person, or home. However, there are certain exceptions to the search warrant requirement that police can use to conduct warrantless searches. If the police conducted an illegal search and found a firearm, your attorney might be able to get the firearm and any mention of it suppressed at trial. In that type of situation, the prosecutor would likely be left with no other option than to dismiss your case.
Talk to an experienced gun crimes attorney
If you are facing illegal gun crime charges, it is important for you to hire an experienced attorney to defend you as soon as possible. Call DiCindio Law at 610-430-3535 to schedule a consultation.