In recent years, California has witnessed a heated debate over the control and ownership of firearms. Given the numerous arguments presented, it's easy to get confused regarding certain elements of firearm ownership. California residents can now legally possess and own certain kinds of firearms after the Second Amendment of the state constitution was made. However, strict rules govern gun ownership and use to safeguard individuals from all types of violent offenses that could occur from the weapon's misuse.

Carrying a loaded firearm is illegal, and you could face time behind bars and hefty cash fines for the firearm offense. We at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm understand the repercussions of any firearm crime in California due to our significant experience defending clients with various firearm charges. Don't let this gun offense ruin your life or jeopardize your firearm ownership rights. Instead, contact our experienced attorneys as soon as you're arrested for carrying a loaded firearm for a comprehensive investigation of your case and assistance in developing an appropriate legal defense strategy.

An Overview of Gun Crimes Under California Law

California has enacted some of the most stringent gun laws to govern the sale, use, and possession of firearms. Several individuals are allowed to own and possess firearms under certain restrictions. To lawfully own a firearm without a license, you must be at least 21 years old. However, some people, such as drug addicts and offenders, are ineligible to own firearms due to their criminal background and conduct.

After purchasing a firearm, you should handle it safely at all times and in all places, even when not in use. Your unloaded firearm must be stored safely in lockable storage, whether in your home or your vehicle. Except for a few exceptions, such as police officers and other law enforcement officers, carrying a loaded firearm in a public place is considered a California gun crime. Under California PC 25850, it's illegal to carry a loaded firearm in a car in your custody or in public. This rule applies to any street in an incorporated city, a forbidden area of unincorporated land, or any public place.

If you possess either an unloaded or loaded gun in public without a valid license to carry a concealed weapon, you could be punished for infringing California gun laws. Possessing or carrying an unloaded gun is a separate offense from carrying a loaded gun. In this article, we'll focus on one particular California gun offense: carrying a loaded firearm, aggravating factors, and related charges. If you're accused of carrying a loaded firearm, you'll want to hire a criminal lawyer who is familiar with and understands California gun laws to safeguard your rights.

Elements of the Offense

Carrying or possessing a loaded firearm in public places, whether on you, in person, or in your vehicle is a crime under California PC 25850. The objective of this statute is to safeguard individuals from violent offense confrontations in public with perpetrators carrying loaded firearms. PC 25850 violations are considered misdemeanor offenses that affect a large number of California residents. Even if the defendant carried the loaded firearm accidentally, a law enforcement official would arrest him or her for this crime. However, you will not be convicted until the prosecution demonstrates certain elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt to the court. The prosecution can apply the following crime elements to build charges against a defendant for carrying a loaded firearm:

The Defendant Was Aware That He or She Possessed a Firearm

The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt to the judgment that the defendant had an intent or knowledge of carrying the loaded gun. If the defendant was unaware that a firearm was in his or her vehicle or on them in person, they wouldn't be guilty of the crime. As a result, you could always apply this as a defense in court with the assistance of your defense attorney whenever there are claims of possessing or carrying a loaded firearm.

The Defendant Had a Loaded Firearm on Him/Her or In His/Her Vehicle

If the defendant had an unloaded gun at the time of arrest, he or she wouldn't be charged with an infringement of California PC 25850. However, the prosecution could still opt to prosecute you for other gun offenses, like carrying an unloaded firearm in a public place. The phrases "firearm" and "loaded" are used interchangeably in the context of demonstrating this aspect of the offense. A firearm, like a rifle or a pistol, is any form of weapon that fires projectiles via a cylinder using an explosive force. Firearms are considered "loaded" if they contain an unexpended cartridge or shell in the chambers or are capped and capable of firing a shot. According to California laws, the offender could be convicted of this crime if he or she possessed a loaded firearm on his or her person or in his or her car.

You Were Out in Public

Another element of the crime that the prosecution needs to demonstrate to the court is that the accused was in a public setting. Before passing a sentence in this dispute, the court will consider whether the offender was arrested in a public place or a restricted location. To prove this aspect of the offense, a public place is defined as any site or place that is open and accessible to anybody who wishes to use the space.

Before making arrests, law enforcement officials have the right to check the kind of firearms that you have to comply with California PC 25850. Resisting a law enforcement arrest could be grounds for arrest for this firearm offense. You should consider hiring a criminal attorney for legal counsel at trial to shield yourself from the prospective penalties and repercussions of the crime.

During the trial, your defense attorney should be attentive and have good communication skills to catch up with the prosecution's back-and-forth kind of communication for a solid legal defense plan using the prosecution's crime aspects of the alleged crime. The advantages of hiring a lawyer with good communication skills extend to your professional relationship with him or her, as he or she will be able to describe legal jargon in a way that you can grasp.

California Penalties for Carrying a Loaded Firearm

Carrying a loaded firearm, like any other firearm crime, is punishable by serious penalties. If found guilty, it could also result in the loss of your firearm ownership rights. Usually, the prosecutor would charge this crime as a misdemeanor offense if no other aggravating circumstances are present. The prosecutor would prosecute this firearm offense as a "wobbler," which means it would be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. California PC 25850 offenders face the following penalties:

  • One year in jail for a misdemeanor and no more than three years in jail for a felony
  • A fine of no more than $1,000 for both felony and misdemeanor crimes
  • If there is no jail term for a misdemeanor offense, informal probation of 3 to 5 years is imposed. If a jail term is imposed, the probation period would almost certainly be reduced

If there is an aggravating factor or circumstance surrounding the crime, the prosecutor would charge carrying a loaded firearm as a straight felony. In terms of punishments, aggravating factors in an offense make the crime more serious. Here are a few aggravating elements that could warrant a straight felony for carrying a loaded firearm:

  • The offender was not the legitimate owner of the firearm
  • The offender has a criminal record for crimes against property or people
  • The defendant belongs to a notorious gang
  • The accused has a criminal record that includes convictions for offenses like possession and/or distribution of drugs or controlled substances
  • The accused person was not allowed to own or possess a firearm for health reasons like mental illness or disorder

When the prosecutor files straight felony charges, the accused faces a maximum fine of $10,000 as well as 3 years in county jail. Additionally, non-citizens would face immigration repercussions with the Department of Homeland Security. For those who break California's gun laws, there are immigration penalties, like deportation. Whether you are an American citizen or not, it is in your best interests to have a criminal attorney on your side after being arrested for violating California PC 25850.

Expungement of a PC 25850 Conviction

Even though you have been charged with a felony, a court can lower the conviction to a misdemeanor. A judge would order that your criminal record be expunged after you finish your probation sentence for a misdemeanor offense. Your eligibility for expungement is contingent on your compliance with the probation's provisions.

Prior Gun Convictions

If you are facing charges for breaking PC 25850 and have prior convictions for:

  • Using a lethal weapon in an assault (PC 254 violation)
  • Shooting at a vehicle or an occupied residence (PC 246 violation)
  • Displaying or brandishing a lethal weapon in a public place (PC 417 violation)
  • Any other violation of California firearms laws

You'll spend 3 months in county jail as a mandated minimum punishment.

Possession of a Firearm Following a PC 25850 Sentence

Being convicted of a misdemeanor does not automatically remove your firearm ownership rights. If the tribunal also finds you to be a juvenile or ward of the juvenile justice system, you'll be barred from possessing or owning a firearm until you hit the age of 30. Once you're convicted of a felony, you'll be barred from handling, owning, or having a firearm forever. If the defendant's felony charge emerged under a wobbler element of PC 25850, he or she would be able to argue for a misdemeanor reduction. If you're successful, you'll be able to retain your firearm ownership rights.

In theory, a defendant's firearm possession rights can be restored if he or she successfully applied for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and received the state Governor's pardon. However, it's a long shot, but it wouldn't apply if your sentence includes the actual usage of a firearm or any other deadly weapon. A deadly weapon is described by California law as any object, instrument, or weapon capable of causing serious physical harm or loss of life. As a result, a loaded firearm is classified as a deadly weapon under this description.

Common Defenses for Carrying a Loaded Firearm Offense

Given the severity of the punishments and penalties for violating California PC 25850, you'll need your criminal attorney to defend you against the firearm allegations. An experienced criminal defense attorney can make the following arguments as a legal defense for an infringement of PC 25850:

Unlawful Searches and Seizures

A police officer or any law enforcement official has no legal authority to search the defendant or his/her vehicle unless there is probable cause or a legitimate search warrant. Law enforcement officials would only have the legitimate right to conduct a search and seizure operation on the defendant or his/her vehicle if he or she is legally arrested for a specific crime committed. Even if the officers have a legitimate search warrant, their inspection should not go beyond the parameters of the order. Evidence obtained by illegal search and seizure would not be considered by the judge. As a result, if your defense lawyer can show the court that the search or seizure of the evidence was illegal, you could be exonerated of the gun charges.

You Had an Unloaded Firearm in Your Possession

Although someone could be carrying a gun, this does not always imply that it's loaded, as several individuals would presume. If the accused had an unloaded gun in his or her possession at the time of the arrest, he or she shouldn't be charged with carrying a loaded weapon. However, the prosecutor would opt to charge the accused with another offense, like violating PC 26350, which deems openly carrying an unloaded firearm in a public place a crime.

You Were Armed For Self-Defense

If you have a trustworthy and reasonable belief that you're at risk of physical harm or in imminent danger, you could carry your gun with you for self-defense. In the majority of criminal cases, using self-defense as a legal defense argument could acquit you of the allegations. For example, if the defendant had a reasonable concern that the individual subject to a restraining order would try to attack him/her or inflict imminent physical danger to the defendant or someone else that filed a restraining order.

If a restraining order existed, the court would find it acceptable to carry a loaded gun for self-defense since any standard or reasonable individual would do the same given similar situations. This legal argument is applicable if the accused is a registered legitimate owner of the weapon and has no prior criminal history.

California Law Allows The Defendant to Carry a Loaded Firearm in a Public Place

According to California PC 25850, a select class of individuals is free from criminal liability, which means they can openly possess or carry a loaded firearm in public. These individuals include, but are not limited to:

  • Military
  • Recreational shooter
  • Security guards
  • Individuals with a concealed weapon permit
  • Any agent of a federal law enforcement agency, such as an FBI agent

If you're not on the list of those who are legally allowed to possess and carry a loaded weapon in public, the court will convict you for violating PC 25850. However, your defense attorney could be able to identify several defense strategies to absolve you of these criminal allegations.

You Were Unaware of the Firearm's Presence

In contrast to the prosecutor's claim that the defendant was fully conscious of the existence of a firearm in his or her vehicle or person, the accused’s criminal defense attorney can use this point as a defense strategy for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place. Lack of awareness or knowledge of the firearm's existence in your possession or your vehicle doesn't constitute an infringement of California's PC 25850. Such a scenario is possible if somebody else unknowingly delivers a parcel to you containing a loaded weapon, which you are unlikely to notice. In this case, you will not be charged with carrying a loaded weapon because you were unaware of its existence in the parcel.

You Were Not in a Public Place or Any Other Restricted Area During the Time of the Arrest

Being in a public or restricted location with a loaded weapon at the moment of arrest is one of the critical crime factors for infringement of PC 25850, which the court considers before passing judgment on this crime. If the officer in question is unable to describe where he/she apprehended you for some reason, the court will be forced to drop the charges solely on insufficient evidence to convict you. This is because the arresting officer was not able to determine whether the region was public or not. Examples of restricted or prohibited zones where people should not carry a loaded firearm comprise areas near state buildings, schools, federal structures, or post offices. Carrying a loaded gun in hunting regions is not a crime under California PC 25850 since the space isn't considered a public place as per the statutes.

Other California Crimes Related to PC 25850 Violations

The prosecution would always seek to charge you with other related offenses if their proof is insufficient in the courts to convict you of violating PC 25850. Occasionally, the prosecutor will find enough evidence to convict you for both this crime and another related crime(s) at the same time. Other offenses linked to a California PC 25850 violation are listed below.

Openly Carrying an Unloaded Gun in Public

Most prosecutors would try to prosecute a defendant for this offense if they don't have enough proof to convict them for violating PC 25850. Carrying or possessing an unloaded gun in a public place is a misdemeanor crime punishable by not more than one year in jail and a hefty fine of $1,000 as per California's gun laws, PC 26350.

Carrying a Hidden or Concealed Weapon

If an individual carries a concealed weapon without a legal license for the ownership of such a concealed gun, he or she violates California gun law PC 25400. A concealed weapon could be any form of a firearm, such as a pistol or a revolver, that is hidden or kept hidden from the public eye. If no additional aggravating circumstances exist, the prosecution will usually pursue this allegation as a misdemeanor. In that situation, the guilty offender could serve no more than one year in county jail as well as pay hefty cash fines of no more than $1,000.

Why Do You Need an Experienced Attorney?

If you are ever arrested for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney as quickly as possible. Lawyers are familiar with the laws and their complexity, so they could promptly assess and refute the evidence. If the prosecutor's evidence against you is flawed, your legal counsel will exploit that to cast doubt on the prosecutor's competency. Since attorneys understand the internal dynamics of the judicial system, they can tackle the heavy work on the defendant's behalf as they prepare for their case's hearing. If you opt to undertake some legal processes on your own, like submitting paperwork or meeting deadlines, you could get overwhelmed.

A lawyer has vital insights into your lawsuit as a result of participating in numerous comparable trials. Such knowledge could involve how to find loopholes, cross-examining a witness' testimony, and making use of obscure legal provisions. They are also in a better position to negotiate settlements and plea bargains, which could save you a lot of money and time.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Carrying a loaded firearm, whether functional or not, carries the risk of losing your freedom as well as significant financial losses owing to the substantial fines imposed by the courts. If you are facing California gun charges, please contact the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm at 951-946-6366 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal attorneys.