FAQ: DC Weapons Offenses

Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Unregistered Firearm, & Unregistered Ammunition

The District of Columbia has some of the strictest weapons laws in the country.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse in our criminal justice system, and DC residents and non-residents alike are expected to know DC’s draconian weapons laws.  Many law abiding citizens with no criminal records get swept up in a lengthy criminal litigation process because they were unaware or unable to properly register their gun in the District.  Unfortunately, this unawareness or inability can lead to a felony charge of Carrying a Pistol Without a License and misdemeanor charges of Unregistered Firearm and Unregistered Ammunition—any of which, if convicted, could affect your life forever.

In the unfortunate event that you are arrested for Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Unregistered Firearm, or Unregistered Ammunition within the District, without a doubt you have a million questions that you want answered.  At Scrofano Law PC, while the facts of every case are different, we believe the answers to the following questions are essential for you to know if faced with a possible DC Gun Offense conviction:

I am not a resident of DC and my gun was legally registered in another state, why am I in trouble?

A common, and unfortunate, scenario leading to a DC gun law violation involves an out-of-state driver who gets pulled over for a minor traffic violation and ends up with a slew of gun charges.  The driver has a legally registered gun but it is registered in another state.  Per your gun safety training, you tell the police officer that you have a firearm in the vehicle.  By all accounts you handled the traffic stop well and in accordance with the law, but now you are facing felony and misdemeanor gun charges.

In the District, it is a felony to carry a gun without a license.  But obtaining a license to carry in DC is nearly impossible.  For out-of-state residents, it is even more impossible to obtain a gun permit.  While DC’s gun laws technically comport with the Second Amendment, many attorneys have recently started challenging the constitutionality of the DC’s gun licensing and registration scheme.  As a result, many felony gun charges have been dismissed so that the government can avoid the impending backlash.  However, the government typically charges separate misdemeanors as well, even though the same problem with trying to obtain a gun permit is still present.

To answer the question: you are in trouble because DC gun laws are unconstitutionally strict and you had no idea.  The only crime you’re guilty of is trying to do the right thing by telling the police you had a firearm in your vehicle.

What are my chances of being convicted? 

In this District, there are three main types of gun charges concerned with unregistered firearms:  Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Unregistered Firearm, and Unregistered Ammunition.

Carrying a Pistol Without a License (“CPWL”) is a felony crime.  To convict you, the government has to prove that (1) you carried a gun on or about your person; (2) you did so voluntarily and on purpose, and not by mistake or accident; and (3) you were not licensed to carry the gun in DC.

Possession of an Unregistered Firearm (“UF”) is a misdemeanor crime.  To convict you of UF, the government has to prove that you (1) possessed a firearm; (2) you did so voluntarily and on purpose, and not by mistake or accident; and (3) your firearm was not registered in DC.

Possession of Ammunition (“UA”) is also a misdemeanor offense.  To be convicted of UA, the government must prove that you (1) possessed ammunition and (2) you did so voluntarily and on purpose, and not by mistake or accident.  Under the UA statute, the government does not have to prove that you do not have a license to a carry a gun of the same caliber as the ammunition possessed because, under DC law, possession of ammunition is presumptively unlawful.

For the first element of the CPWL and UF statutes, the government must prove that you were actually carrying the weapon and/or ammo, or that you could easily access the weapon and/or ammo.  For the second element of the CPWL and UF statutes, the government must prove that you meant to carry the unlicensed gun and/or ammo.  For the third element of the CPWL and UF statutes, the government must prove that you did not have a license for the gun.

The fact that you don’t know about DC’s gun licensing and registration requirements is not a defense to a CPWL or UF violation.  However, as you learned in the answer to Question #1, the constitutionality of DC’s gun licensing and registration scheme has been under extreme scrutiny lately, and lawyers have gained a foothold in fighting a CPWL or UF convictions.  Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed outcome in any case but every piece of evidence the government has against you can be challenged.

To learn more about other DC weapons offense, see part 2 of FAQ: DC Weapons Offenses. 

If convicted, will I go to jail and/or have to pay a fine? 

Unfortunately, for DC gun offenses, jail time is common, but payment of statutory fines is uncommon, although technically possible.  For a CPWL conviction, a first offender could spend up to 5 years in jail and pay up to $12,500 in fines.  A defendant with a prior gun convictions could face up to 10 years in jail and pay up to $25,000.

Judges consider DC’s voluntary sentencing guidelines for all felony convictions including CPWL.  If you will serve jail time and how much jail time you could get according to the sentencing guidelines depends on if you have any prior gun convictions.  Obviously first offenders will have an easier time with sentencing than prior offenders will.  For first offenders, the best case scenario for a CPWL conviction is 1 to 5 years supervised probation.  The court will also order you to pay a contribution of $100 to $500 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund.

Both UF and UA convictions, carry up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.  There are no sentencing guidelines for misdemeanor charges, but whether or not you spend time in jail or pay fines depends on many circumstances in your case including how and why you were arrested, whether you have a criminal record, and whether your firearm was registered in another state.  For a UF or UA conviction, the best case scenario is unsupervised probation for about 1 year, and a contribution of $50 to $250 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund.

Will the government offer me a plea deal and, if so, is it better to plea out than go to trial? 

In DC gun violation cases, CPWL, UF, and UA are usually charged together. For first offenders the government will usually offer the following plea deal: if you plead guilty to the UF and UA charges, they will drop the CPWL and recommend that the judge impose up to 1 year unsupervised probation.  For first offenders with no criminal history, if you go to trial on the charges instead of taking the plea, the best sentence a judge could impose if convicted is 1 to 5 years supervised probation.

Because of the disparity in possible probation time and the risk of actual jail time, the government’s usual plea has been considered the golden ticket for many folks in this type of situation.  However, since the constitutionality of DC’s gun licensing and registration scheme has been called into question lately, trying your chances at trial might be the new golden ticket.

For defendants with prior offenses, the government will sometimes offer the following plea deal: if you plead guilty to the CPWL charges, they will drop the UF and UA charges.  Whether or not you should take this type of plea his highly dependent on the facts of your case and the types of priors you have.  Because you could face up to 10 years as a prior offender, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced DC gun lawyer who will explain all of your options for you.

What are my other options if I am/not convicted (e.g. appeal, record sealing, etc…)?

Needless to say, you have a lot more options if you are not convicted of CPWL, UF, or UA.  If you are not convicted of UF or UA, you can get your arrest record sealed after 2 years so long as you do not get arrested or convicted of another crime during that time.  If you are not convicted of CPWL, you can get your arrest record sealed after 4 years so long as you do not get arrested or convicted of another crime during that time.

Beyond record sealing, you could potentially sue the District of Columbia for damages in a civil case.  As mentioned numerous times in this post, the constitutionality of DC’s gun licensing and registration scheme is under immense scrutiny at the moment.  Many individuals feel as if they were wrongfully prosecuted under unconstitutional laws and they are seeking redress from the government for all of their unnecessary suffering.  For example, because of the pending charges against them, many people might lose hours and wages at work, some people even lose their jobs, people who are also students might get in trouble with their universities, and the list goes on and on.  If you feel that you deserve damages for the suffering you experienced, maybe a civil lawsuit is the option for you.

Now, if you are convicted of CPWL, UF, or UA, don’t worry, you still have options! Any person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal.  Whether or not you should appeal depends on what you are looking to get out the situation.  Because of the tedious and time-consuming judicial process, it is likely that you will have already completed your sentence before your appeal is decided.  While you probably won’t avoid your sentence, you can achieve a moral victory by winning an appeal because your conviction would be overturned and erased from your record.  A moral victory is a victory nonetheless, and you have a lot to gain from winning an appeal.

While an appeal may not be fruitful, you may be able to get your arrest and conviction record sealed.  Unfortunately, a CPWL conviction is labeled as an “ineligible felony” which means that you cannot get it sealed.  However, there is hope if you have a UF or UA conviction!  For a UF or UA conviction, you can get your arrest record and conviction sealed 8 years after you’ve completed your sentence, so long as you are not arrested or convicted of another crime during that time.

When faced with a possible DC CPWL, UF, and/or UA conviction, you may have more questions than the ones mentioned above and you may need more detailed answers.  It is imperative that you hire an experienced gun lawyer who will answer any and all of the questions you might have.  At Scrofano Law PC, we have helped numerous clients with all of their gun offenses questions.  While we can’t guarantee the outcome of your case, we can offer you predictability and reassurance every step of the way.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a D.C. Gun Offense, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for a full consultation.