By: Mark Diaz
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Which Weapons Charges Are Considered Serious Crimes In Texas?
All criminal arrests carry serious implications, but the level of severity for Texas weapons charges is generally a question of how you view punishment. If you do not mind going to jail, paying fines, and facing other consequences, you might not consider gun crimes to be a big deal. For those who treasure their freedom and wallet, however, a violation of state criminal laws is most definitely a grave matter.
Beyond incarceration and paying fines, there may be implications for your future even after serving your sentence. A conviction for a gun offense can also impact your constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. Together, these factors should convince you of the severity of weapons charges.
Serious crimes require serious dedication to fighting the charges, which is why many people in your position rely on Harris County criminal defense lawyers to protect their interests. Unless you have a legal background, you put your rights and freedom at risk. You can rely on your attorney to manage the details, but you should be aware of what weapons charges are considered serious crimes in Texas.
Overview of Texas Gun Laws
Many people believe that weapons offenses are not serious because of the state’s reputation for having some of the least restrictive gun laws on the books. While this may be true when comparing Texas statutes to other US states, law enforcement remains diligent in pursuing offenders. According to statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), authorities arrest more than 12,000 people every year for violations of weapons laws.
In general, a violation of the law is a product of who you are, the nature of the gun or other dangerous weapon, and what you do with it. Note that Texas enacted a permit-less carry law that became effective in September 2021. A summary of some key provisions is informative:
Unlawful Carrying of Weapons (“UCW”)
The current law on UCW that went into effect as of September 1, 2021 makes it illegal to carry a handgun outside of your home or vehicle (unless you are going from one to the other) in the following situations: (1) if you’re intoxicated; (2) if you’re prohibited from possessing a firearm by law; (3) if you’re under 21 years old; or (4) if you are convicted of certain offenses within five years from the date of the instant offense being committed. The current law also makes it illegal to carry a handgun in plain view in a public place unless the handgun is in a holster, and also to carry a handgun in plain view inside a vehicle unless you’re 21 (or if you’re permitted) and the handgun is in a holster.
Carrying in Prohibited Places
There are numerous buildings and locations where you cannot have a firearm, location-restricted knife, club, or other prohibited weapon in your possession. Doing so is a crime regardless of open versus concealed carry and whether you have a permit. Prohibited places include:
- Polling places during voting.
- Certain government buildings, including courthouses and correctional facilities.
- Locations where sporting events are held, including those at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels.
- Beyond the security point at airport terminals.
- Amusement parks.
This offense is a Third-Degree Felony in most cases involving firearms, but it could be charged as a Class C Misdemeanor if the weapon is a knife.
Texas has imposed restrictions on certain types of firearms and weapons, which amount to a violation of the law if you have them in your possession. The offense is a Third-Degree Felony in most cases. Unless you register under federal law, the following are prohibited:
- Machine guns, i.e., fully automatic firearms that load, fire, and eject continuously upon holding the trigger.
- Short-barrel firearms and sawed-off shotguns.
- Armor-piercing ammunition.
- Zip guns.
Keep in mind that the above description only applies to standalone firearms and weapons charges.
When a gun, knife, or other object is used in the commission of the crime, you face both the underlying offense AND additional charges for violating gun laws.
Penalties for Violating Texas Weapons Laws
If convicted of a gun crime, the following represents the statutory punishment ranges based on the charge you were convicted of:
- For a conviction on a Class A Misdemeanor charge (generally, UCW offenses are classified at this level), you could face up to a year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both.
- A State Jail Felony conviction is punishable by no less than 180 days and up to two years incarceration in a State Jail, plus a possible fine of up to $10,000.
- If you are convicted of a Third-Degree Felony gun charge, the range of punishment is no less than two years in prison and no more than ten years, and a possible fine not to exceed $10,000.
However, these presumptive sentences could be harsher in some cases. Your criminal history is a factor, especially if you have a prior conviction for a specific gun or weapons crime. A Class A Misdemeanor gun offense could be elevated to a felony, leading to longer imprisonment terms and higher fines.
Defense Strategies at Different Stages of a Weapons Charges Case
Considering the harsh penalties, you will certainly want to leverage all possible opportunities to defend the allegations. Always remember the prosecutor’s burden in any criminal case: The government must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. With this point in mind, it is helpful to review the timeline of a criminal case and how a Harris County criminal defense attorney can assist with each stage:
- Investigation: With some gun crimes cases, particularly manufacturing, sales, or transportation of firearms, law enforcement may conduct an investigation. Police cannot make an arrest unless they have probable cause of unlawful acts, so they work to gain sufficient information to charge you. This could be occurring without your knowledge, but your constitutional rights still apply. Misconduct during this phase could provide grounds to exclude evidence against you and potentially throw out the case.
- Arrest: From the moment you are charged with a violation of Texas weapons laws, you have certain rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Officers should inform you of your rights once they have made the decision to arrest you by reading your Miranda warnings. Failure to do so could lead to the exclusion of any statements that you may have made that were incriminating against you.
- Pretrial: There is considerable activity in the period leading up to your trial, including:
- Motions: Both the prosecutor and your defense attorney can file motions in the case, which are essentially a request for the judge to take a certain action. Your lawyer may file a motion to exclude evidence was collected from you in violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. If successful, the prosecution may not have enough proof to meet its burden, meaning the charges could be dismissed.
- Discovery: Because of the Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, you will never be called for a deposition. However, your lawyer may engage in documentary discovery and call other witnesses for a deposition when doing so will benefit your case.
- Trial: The prosecutor goes first by presenting witnesses and exhibits related to the allegations that you broke the law. As part of protecting your rights, your defense attorney’s job is to attack weaknesses in the evidence. Many Texas weapons laws require proof that you acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly; the prosecution cannot obtain a conviction without information on your state of mind.
When the prosecutor rests, it will be your opportunity to present defenses to gun crimes allegations. One option is having a lack of actual or constructive control over the firearm or weapon, which defeats a possession charge.
Keep in mind that the door to plea bargaining is open during almost any stage in the criminal process. When the evidence is weak or your defenses are strong, the prosecutor may be more amenable to working out an agreement instead of risking a loss. A plea bargain could lead to lesser charges, reduced sentences, or both.
Steps to Take if Arrested for Weapons Charges
Your first priority should be contacting an attorney from the moment you are arrested or become aware of an investigation. In addition:
- Never resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is illegal. This should be fought later by your attorney.
- Exercise your right to remain silent. Do not answer questions, profess innocence, or otherwise provide statements to law enforcement.
- If you do not have a lawyer by your arraignment, enter a plea of Not Guilty.
Consult with Our Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers About Weapons Charges
Now that you know what weapons charges are considered serious crimes in Texas, you see why retaining experienced legal representation is essential. With help from an attorney, you can take advantage of all defense opportunities and other strategies for a favorable resolution to the charges.
For more information on how our team supports clients in Harris County and Greater Houston, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. You can reach our office by calling (409) 515-6170. We are happy to schedule a consultation with one of our Harris County criminal defense lawyers. Once we learn more about your case, we can counsel you on options for fighting weapons charges and gun crimes.