It seems lately there’s a news story every day involving the intersection of firearms and youth. Whether about alleged homicides, other shootings, or possessing guns at school, these reports have caused concern in the public and by extension, the courts. The Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recently reported that firearms offenses have risen from 3% to 13%. Defending these youth was already an uphill battle, so in this climate of increased awareness, we thought we would share some quick tips that may aid in your representation.
Tips on Representing Youth Charged with a Firearms Offense
Was it a real gun?
Check the controlling statute to see if it matters whether or not what appears to be a gun has to be an actual firearm. In some instances, especially possession of a firearm (underage possession of a handgun), it needs to be an actual firearm. In other instances, the victim’s belief that a firearm is being used is evidence enough of a dangerous weapon (see various cases on robbery with a dangerous weapon). And note that for assault by pointing a gun, the gun or pistol doesn’t actually have to be loaded.
Does the type of firearm matter?
Yes, especially for possession of a weapon on school property:
“It shall be a Class I felony for any person knowingly to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, pistol, or other firearm of any kind on educational property or to a curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by a school…However, this subsection does not apply to a BB gun, stun gun, air rifle, or air pistol.”
Does it matter where my client got the gun?
It might. Several recent incidents indicate that parents or other individuals who didn’t properly secure and store a weapon later used are being charged. Individuals charged may serve to mitigate the culpability of your client.
The offense most often transferred is robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Just be aware that annually one-third of all cases transferred, especially for 16- and 17-year-olds, are for robbery with a dangerous weapon. If you receive a petition for this charge, be prepared immediately to defend against transfer. This shouldn’t preclude negotiations, but knowing this trend hopefully will inform your preparation on the case.
Where can I find a firearms expert?
Written by, Eric Zogry, State Juvenile Defender. Eric was appointed state Juvenile Defender by the Indigent Defense Services Commission in November 2004 and has served since then.