Gun crimes in Worcester County refer to the possession or handling of an unlawful weapon or the possession of a lawful weapon without satisfying the legal requirements to do so. This represents a limitation to the Second Amendment rights that grant each citizen the right to bear arms. Given the dangers posed by the improper possession or use of firearms, law enforcement officers and prosecutors in Worcester take gun crimes very seriously. Usually, they aim to punish them to the full extent of the law. Some of the most common gun crime charges in Worcester County are
Unlawful Possession of Firearm: this refers to the ownership, possession, or transfer of a firearm, rifle, shotgun, or ammunition without complying with statutory requirements. This crime is punishable by a jail term not exceeding two years or by a fine of not more than $500 for a first-time offender. A subsequent violation is punishable by up to two years in a house of correction or by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both.
Unlawful Carrying of Firearm: this charge covers the intentional possession of a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded outside one’s residence or place of business, without the requisite firearm license. The charge also covers instances where a person knowingly possesses illegal weapons such as a sawed-off shotgun or machine gun. On conviction, the unlawful carrying of firearms is punishable by a state prison sentence between two and half years and five years, or between 18 months and two and half years in a house of correction. Persons found in possession of a machine gun or sawed-off shotgun may be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Possession of a Firearm in Commission of a Felony: in addition to the punishments for a felony, possessing a firearm while committing the crime is punishable by a minimum of five years imprisonment. The minimum sentence is, however, graduated to 10 years if the weapon is a large-capacity one. These sentences are in addition to those imposed for the underlying felony.
Carrying a Shotgun or Rifle on a Public Way: A public way is defined as a street, sidewalk, or other public ground. If the weapon is loaded, the offender faces up to two years imprisonment in a house of correction in addition to fines between $500 and $5,000. Where the weapon is considered a large-capacity one, the crime punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, including a minimum one-year sentence.
Illegal Discharging of Firearm: it is a crime to discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling or other building in use without the owner’s consent. The offense is punishable by up to three months imprisonment along with a fine between $50 and $100, or either the imprisonment or fine.
Carrying a Loaded Firearm While Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol: is punishable by up to two and half years in a house of correction or a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both the imprisonment and fine.
Massachusetts is considered one of the states with strong gun safety laws and Worcester County experienced an 18% drop in its weapon violation cases between 2019 and 2020. According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS), Worcester recorded a total 294 of weapon law violations in 2020, which comprised 262 cases on possession and concealing, 24 on usage, ten on buying, four on promoting, and one on distribution. In addition to these, the county experienced other gun-related offenses, including 2,023 aggravated assaults, 13 murders, and 81 cases of abduction.
Only individuals with the requisite firearm license issued by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office can own and possess a gun in Worcester County. Two types of gun licenses can be granted to a person in Worcester; License to Carry (LTC) and the Firearms Identification Card (FID). LTC permits the ownership and possession of all handguns, rifles, shotguns, and feeding devices, as well as ammunition, whether in large or non-large capacity but the license is issued only to a person that is at least 21 years old. FID permits the purchase and possession of only non-large-capacity firearms. To get this license, an applicant must be 18 years or older. Applicants between the ages of 14–17 may also apply with parental consent, but the card will not be issued until they reach age 15. Both types of firearms licenses are valid for six years and are renewable.
The following factors bar a person from obtaining any of the firearm licenses:
Legal gun owners in Worcester County rarely face repercussions when their guns go missing and are used to commit a crime. However, Massachusetts law requires firearm owners to immediately report the theft or loss to the Criminal History Systems Board and the Worcester County Sheriff or the police department in their town of residence. Failure to report a missing or stolen weapon may result in a suspension or permanent revocation of the firearm license in addition to a fine of between $200 and $1,000 for a first offense and a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 for a second offense. Subsequent offenses are punishable by a fine between $7,500 and $10,000, imprisonment for between one year and five years, or both a fine and imprisonment.
Depending on the particular circumstance, guns can be used to stop a crime in Worcester County either by law enforcement officers or by individuals in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of property. A police officer in Worcester would usually be permitted to use a gun where the crime that is being committed is a felony offense that requires such a level of force. The type of weapon police officers can use also depends on the circumstance. They are required to use weapons within reason. On the other hand, the use of guns by private persons in any recognized form of defense is only permissible where it is proportionate to the danger. According to the EOPSS, 40% of the gun violations in Worcester County occurred in a home or residence, making the residential areas the place with most instances of gun crimes.
Under US immigration law, an immigrant convicted for a firearm offense in Worcester County faces severe immigration consequences that may include deportation or removal. However, for this to happen, the Supreme Court noted that possession, sale, use, offer for sale, exchange, ownership, or carrying must be an element of the offense that the immigrant was convicted for.
A conviction for weapons and firearms violations has one of the most severe consequences in Worcester County. In addition to potential prison sentences and fines, there are other collateral consequences such as registration as a felon which may affect the person’s prospects of getting a job as well as possible disqualification from applying for a valid gun license. This is why it is important to seek the help of a skilled weapons and firearms violation attorney when facing a gun crime charge. The attorney would examine the overall circumstances around the case, including the search and seizure process, to point out irregularities that can prevent the admissibility of certain evidence. Similarly, the attorney would also look out for deficiencies in the prosecution’s argument that may be a valid defense to prevent the gun charge from resulting in conviction.
Depending on the particular facts of each case, a defense attorney may deploy any of the following defenses to counter a gun violation charge.
Illegal Search and Seizure: This is one of the common defenses to a gun crime charge. It is usually deployed where the police contravened constitutional provisions in the process of searching the defendant. The defense attorney may be able to file a Motion to Suppress any evidence obtained from such search.
Lack of Knowledge: Certain gun crimes require the accused to be aware of the location of the firearm. Submitting evidence that the accused could not have been aware of the location of the firem=arms may be sufficient to rely on this defense.
Possession of requisite License: depending on the particular case, a defendant can escape conviction by showing possession of a License to Carry or a Firearms Identification Card.
Lack of Possession: most gun offenses in Worcester County require that the accused was in possession of the firearm. A skilled attorney can argue that the defendant was not in possession of the firearm, for example, where the defendant was merely a passenger in a vehicle that had the weapon.
Absence of Firearm: for the wielding of an object to amount to a gun crime, such an object must amount to a firearm under the law. Per Massachusetts law, a firearm is defined as a pistol, revolver, or other weapons, loaded or unloaded, from which a bullet may be discharged, and the length of whose barrel is less than sixteen inches.
Punishments for gun crimes in Worcester County can be substantially increased if the accused have a prior conviction for either a violent or serious drug offense. A defendant may be able to avoid such an enhancement by relying on any of the following defense strategies.
Prosecution lacks sufficient information: due to different reasons, the prosecution might find it difficult to obtain the certified prior conviction and hence may not have sufficient information to order an enhancement of the accused’s punishment. Where this is the case, the defense may be able to have the charge reduced.
Mismatching Identity: the prosecution must be able to provide a record of the prior conviction that matches the biographical information of the accused. The defendant can escape an enhancement of the charges by showing a discrepancy between the personal information attached to the prior conviction and the defendant’s information. The prosecution is required to prove the existence of the prior conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.