What are the best defences to firearms charges?
If you face a firearms charge where the public safety was perceived to be at risk, the prosecution will be working hard to convict you.
You need to be ready with the best possible defence.
Firearms charges are serious criminal charges that can result in a criminal record and a possible jail sentence, even for first-time offenders.
The first step is to hire an experienced lawyer familiar with local firearms cases and work to build a solid defence. This normally leads to several important questions:
- What do you build your defence around?
- How can you get the case dismissed or win an acquittal at trial?
- How can you avoid getting that criminal record that will stay with you for the rest of your life?
The best defence for firearms charges depend on several factors.
What should you build your defence around?
The evidence against you may be overwhelming.
An experienced lawyer will still aim to build a defence around the common legal avenues open to you in firearms cases.
Mostly, they are based around your Charter rights, the actions of the arresting officers, and other errors made during the process of arresting and charging you.
Here are a few examples of the best types of defence in firearms cases:
Possession: evidence was gathered through an illegal search of you or your premises
If you are able to demonstrate that a search of you, your vehicle or your premises was conducted without the correct legal permissions, (e.g. a search warrant), the evidence may be excluded from a trial.
It may mean that the prosecution’s key evidence will not be permissible and your case can be dismissed.
This defence is common, especially in firearms possession charges where a gun was found in a vehicle.
Possession: you were unaware that you had a firearm
Another common defence against alleged firearms possession offences is that you didn’t know you had a firearm in your possession.
Ignorance of a crime is rarely a good defence in court but what if you were driving your car with some friends and one of them had hidden a gun in the passenger side door? The police pull you over for no tail light and then search your vehicle and find the firearm. Then what?
It does happen and it can be a legitimate defence. The prosecution needs to prove that you were aware of the presence of the gun.
If you can clearly demonstrate that a firearm was in your possession without your knowledge, it may be your best chance of escaping a conviction.
This defence is often most effective for first-time offenders who have never been charged with a firearms offence before.
However, you should be aware that you can be charged with being “wilfully blind” to the presence of the gun i.e. you suspected that a firearm was there but failed to confirm or deny its presence.
This can still lead to a guilty verdict for possession.
Usage: You met the required standard of care with your firearm
Firearms charges and convictions are more serious if you endanger public safety,
Sometimes, with firearms usage, if you can demonstrate that you were, in fact, using your firearm, in accordance with the required standard of care, it can be a strong defence.
This requires you and your lawyer being able to demonstrate that you took all of the necessary precautions with your firearm to ensure there was no danger to people nearby.
You may also be able to argue that it was impossible for you to know, given the circumstances, that you were endangering anyone by using your firearm.
Can I avoid a criminal record?
Your best chance of avoiding this is working with a qualified and experienced firearms lawyer to present the best possible defence.
They can help you avoid a conviction through:
- Case dismissal
- Acquittal at trial
- Case resolution negotiations, such as the Alternative Measures Program or conditional discharge
Most firearms cases are highly technical.
Skilled firearms lawyers may be able to object to crucial prosecution evidence based on the technical legal rules of evidence and procedure.
Even minor offences such as unauthorized possession of a firearm, where no criminal intent needs to be proven, can be challenged on technical grounds.
More serious charges like trafficking or illegal use are even more difficult to prove by the prosecution, especially where criminal intent must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Remember that the Crown needs to show that the evidence against you was obtained according to the law and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charge(s).
There are often discrepancies, contradictions or gaps in the Crown’s case against you.
Other times, Charter rights are violated and the actions taken by law enforcement are unconstitutional.
A skilled firearms lawyer will analyze all the evidence and identify the best possible defence based on all of these factors.