A felony conviction has serious consequences. It remains on your criminal record permanently, making jobs and housing extremely difficult to obtain. Aside from incarceration, probation, fines, counseling, and other conditions the sentencing judge may impose, a felony conviction also strips away certain constitutional rights. One of these rights is the right to possess a firearm. In enacting the below statute prohibiting the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the General Assembly has sought to keep guns out of the hands of those individuals who by their prior conduct have demonstrated they may not possess a firearm without being a threat to society. This article will explain the three key components of the criminal offense, the punishment, and defenses.
It is illegal for any person who has been convicted of a felony to possess a firearm. O.C.G.A. § 16-11-131.
Felony convictions include: any person who is on felony first offender probation, felony conditional discharge probation, or has been convicted of a felony in Georgia or any other state (also includes U.S. territories and courts of foreign nations).
A “firearm,” includes any handgun, rifle, shotgun, or other weapon which will or can be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or electrical charge. Therefore, toys or non-functioning replicas do not qualify as weapons. However, it is important to note that even disassembled firearms or even projectiles by themselves constitute “firearms” under the statute.
To prove possession, the prosecution must establish has two requirements, a culpable mental state and the act of possessing a firearm. First, the prosecution must establish the person knowingly possessed a firearm. Knowledge can be proven through direct evidence (person’s statement admitting possession) or through circumstantial evidence (firearm found on person’s bed side table and nobody else had access to the house). Possession can be further broken down into two categories, actual and constructive possession. Actual possession is what it sounds like. If you have a firearm in your hand (or holster, or in your waistband), you are in actual possession of a firearm. Constructive possession, however, is a situation where you have control or dominion over property without being in actual possession of it. For example, imagine you are seated in the front passenger seat of a vehicle along with the driver. The vehicle is pulled over, searched by police, and illegal drugs are found in the center console. Although neither you nor the driver was in actual possession of the drugs, you are both arguably in constructive possession of the drugs because of your mutual ability to access and control of the drugs.
A person convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon shall be sentenced to no less than one year and no more than ten years. If this is a second or subsequent conviction, the person shall be sentenced to prison for no less than five and no more than ten years. If the underlying felony was a “forcible felony” the person shall be sentenced to five years imprisonment. A forcible felony is defined as, “any felony involving the use or threat of physical force or violence against any person . . .”
There are several defenses available to a person charged with this offense. One is to challenge the underlying conviction. If the conviction is not a felony or was a felony but was discharged under the First Offender Act or conditional discharge sentence, then there is no underlying felony. This offense also does not apply to those who have been convicted but had their convictions pardoned by the state.
The next available defense is to challenge the required mental state; that the person was “knowingly” in possession of a firearm. You cannot be in possession of something that you have no knowledge of.
The defense may also challenge whether the person was in constructive possession. In Harvey v. State, the court found insufficient evidence the defendant was in constructive possession of a firearm (by a convicted felon) even though defendant’s name appeared on documents in closet of apartment where firearm was found; the gun was found on the floor next to an unidentified individual, defendant’s name was not on the lease, and defendant had no belongings inside the apartment. 344 Ga.App. 7 (2017).
If you or someone you know has been arrested, contact the law firm of W. Scott Smith at 404.581.0999 today for a free case evaluation. You’ll find a local Atlanta attorney ready to aggressively fight on your behalf. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.