In California, as in all other states, convicted felons are not permitted to own or possess firearms.
Below is a legal overview of what happens when a convicted felon is in possession of a firearm and when that possession may be legal.
- What is California’s Felon With A Firearm Law?
- Are There Misdemeanor Offenses That Prevent Possession of Firearms?
- Does It Matter If The Firearm Is Not Loaded?
- What Are The Penalties?
- Legal Defenses
- Record Expungement For Felon With A Firearm
- Certificate Of Rehabilitation
- Next Steps If You Need Help
What is California’s Felon With A Firearm Law?
It is illegal to possess a firearm if you are a felon, narcotic addict, or have been convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes listed below.
If you are included in one of these prohibited categories, then you may be convicted of violating Penal Code Section 29800 for possessing a firearm so long as the DA proves any of the following:
- You owned, purchased, received, or possessed a firearm
- And you knew of its presence
It’s important to consider the legal definitions of these terms and prohibited categories.
What is Considered “In Possession of a Firearm”?
Possession consists of being in actual control or having the weapon on your person.
There is also constructive possession where you have the firearm in your car, home, or office rather than directly on or with you1.
What Is The Legal Definition Of A Felon?
A felon for purposes of this code section is someone who fits within the following categories:
- Convicted of a felony in California or any other state2, or
- Convicted of a federal crime or a similar state offense for which a felony punishment is imposed, or
- You were sentenced to a federal correctional facility for 30 days and/or received a fine of at least $1,0003
Who Is Legally Defined As A Narcotic Addict?
Drug addicts are those individuals who have a physical or psychological dependence on a drug and can tolerate substantial dosages4.
Are There Misdemeanor Offenses That Prevent Possession of Firearms?
Certain misdemeanor convictions will also make it illegal for you to possess a firearm under PC 29805 within 10 years of your conviction.
- Assault with a deadly weapon—PC 245
- Assault with a firearm—PC 245(a)(2)
- Brandishing a weapon—PC 417
- Certain sex crimes
- Stalking—PC 646.9
- Criminal threats—PC 422
- Shooting at an inhabited dwelling—PC 246
- Spousal battery—PC 243(e)(1)
- Witness intimidation—PC 136.1
What Is The Definition Of Firearm?
You have to have been in possession of a firearm5 to be convicted and the firearm is one that fits within the following definition under PC 16520.
- A device designed to be used as a weapon
- From which a projectile is expelled
- Through a barrel
- By the force of explosion or combustion
The firearm does not have to be complete to be considered a “firearm” for the purposes of this code section.
It can be the receiver or frame. A frame is the main section of the gun that has the mounting and operating parts. A receiver contains the weapon’s mechanical parts.
Other firearms under PC 16520 are Tasers, flare guns, or rocket-propelled launcher6.
Does It Matter If The Firearm Is Not Loaded?
There is no distinction between a loaded or unloaded firearm to be considered in possession of a firearm under this code section and be exposed to criminal liability.
Is Anyone Else Prohibited From Firearms Possession?
A protective order will prohibit the person who is the subject of the order from owning, possessing, purchasing, or possessing a firearm and who will have to surrender them to law enforcement under PC 29825.
Other prohibited persons include:
- Persons determined to be a danger to yourself or others due to a mental illness
- Persons found incompetent to stand trial
- Persons found not guilty at trial by reason by insanity
- Persons adjudged a mentally disordered sex offender
- Persons placed under conservatorship because you are gravely ill due to chronic alcoholism or due to a mental disorder
- Persons dishonorably discharged from the military (federal law)
- Undocumented immigrants
- Those who renounced their US citizenship
- Fugitives from justice (federal law)
- You were adjudged a ward of the juvenile court for certain violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, or robbery among others, and may not possess a firearm before the age of 30
- A condition of your probation prohibits firearm possession
What Are The Penalties?
A violation of PC 29800 is always a felony if you are a felon in possession of a firearm.
If convicted, you face:
What Happens If You Have A Previous Conviction?
A violation of unlawfully possessing a firearm becomes a “wobbler” offense if you were previously convicted of one of the misdemeanor offenses that resulted in you being prohibited from owning, possessing, or purchasing a firearm for 10 years.
A wobbler is one where the DA has the discretion to charge you with either a felony or misdemeanor based on your criminal history and the facts and circumstances of your case.
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1000.
What If Your Previous Offense Was As A Juvenile?
For those individuals who were adjudged wards of the court and prohibited from owning, possessing or purchasing a firearm until the age of 30 but have been found in violation, they are punished under PC 298207.
This is a wobbler offense as well.
If convicted, you face:
- Up to one year in county jail if a misdemeanor
- 16, months, 2 or 3 years if a felony
Similarly, for those who were subject to a TRO but were found in unlawful possession of a firearm, they are in violation of PC 298258, which is also a wobbler offense.
Lack Of Knowledge
The element of knowledge of possession is absent if you were reasonably unaware that the firearm was in your possession.
Another aspect of this is the lack of knowledge that the device was an operational firearm. You can also successfully assert that you were unaware of a gun found in a car belonging to someone else.
This defense is not valid if the weapon was in plain view.
Lack Of Possession
Even if you did know that a weapon was in your residence, this does not constitute possession by you if another person in your home did possess it such as a roommate.
So long as you can show that the weapon was not within your control, it is not possession.
Temporary possession is also a defense. You may lawfully possess the firearm if you immediately intended to dispose of, abandon, or destroy it9.
Your possession of the firearm for this purpose cannot be coupled with the intent to prevent law enforcement from seizing the weapon.
There may be circumstances where possession of the firearm was justified. For example, you subdued an attacker with a gun and took the firearm away.
If you have the gun, you must promptly notify law enforcement so that either an officer will come to you to retrieve it or you inform them that you are delivering it.
This should also extend to instances where you found a firearm and are advising law enforcement that you are delivering it.
Self-defense involves the justifiable use of force against another if you reasonably believed you or someone else was in imminent danger of harm. Also, you may not use more force than is necessary to stop the attack or subdue the attacker.
In the context of a felon or other prohibited person from possessing a firearm, there are other conditions that must be present.
- You were under the reasonable belief that you or others were in imminent danger10 of great bodily harm and,
- A firearm became available to you without a preconceived plan11 and,
- You used or possessed the firearm just long enough to defend yourself or other person12, and
- There was no alternative way at that moment to avoid the danger or to reasonably defend yourself or other person
You must use any other alternative available to you at or during the moment to avoid using or possessing the firearm13. This includes running from the scene unless the person is shooting at you or has a firearm pointed at you. But if you subdue the attacker or render the person incapable of harming you, you may face prosecution if you pick up the firearm and threaten the subdued attacker.
Self-defense must be proved by you if you allege it since it is an affirmative defense. If you can prove each element by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it was more likely than not that you possessed or used the weapon in self-defense then you should be found not guilty.
Record Expungement For Felon With A Firearm
Expungement is a desired form of post-conviction relief that can relieve a person of the indignities and real-life barriers to living a normal and productive life that a convicted felon, and even those convicted of certain misdemeanors, often experience.
Misdemeanors and many felony offenses do qualify for expungement. Its main benefit is that it shields your conviction record from public view. The code section under which expungement relief is found is PC 1203.4.
You may qualify for expungement for a felony conviction under Penal Code 29800 since the section does not require any time served to be in state prison. Any misdemeanor conviction qualifies for expungement, provided you meet other conditions.
As indicates, an expungement does not totally erase your record though any members of the general public including private employers, landlords or anyone else not associated with the government will see that you have no criminal conviction when a criminal background check is performed.
Take A Free Expungement Eligibility Test
Find Out if You Are Eligible To Have Your Record Expunged
Certificate Of Rehabilitation
If you did serve time in state prison for a felony conviction under PC 29800, you can still obtain relief to a limited degree by filing a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. You generally must wait a minimum of 7 years after you completed all conditions of your sentence and probation and have resided in California for at least 5 years.
The waiting period can be shortened provided you have not reoffended and can demonstrate evidence of rehabilitation such as having a good job and providing for your family. If so, you would petition the court to waive it in the interests of justice.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation has the following benefits:
- Automatic qualification for a Governor’s Pardon
- No automatic disqualification from public employment
- Offers significant evidence of rehabilitation that potential employers, landlords or schools may consider as evidence of your sound character
What a Certificate of Rehabilitation will not do:
- Your conviction may be used for sentence enhancement if you do commit another felony offense
- No reinstatement of your right to possess or own firearms
- You still have to disclose your conviction if testifying or giving any statement while under oath
- You will not qualify for the military or any law enforcement position
Only a Governor’s Pardon will restore all of your civil rights including the right to own and possess firearms.
Next Steps If You Need Help
If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about how attorneys charge.
If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.
If you would like to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.
Request A Free Consultation
- Constructive vs. Actual Possession. People v. Azevedo (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 235, 242–243 [207 Cal.Rptr. 270], questioned on other grounds in In re Jorge M. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 866, 876, fn. 6 [98 Cal.Rptr.2d 466, 4 P.3d 297]. [↩]
- California Penal Code 29800(a)(1) – Any person who has been convicted of, or has an outstanding warrant for, a felony under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country, or of an offense enumerated in subdivision (a), (b), or (d) of Section 23515, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in possession or under custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony. California Legislature [↩]
- California Penal Code 29800(2) The defendant was sentenced to a federal correctional facility for more than 30 days, or received a fine of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or received both punishments., California Legislature [↩]
- People v. Victor (1965) ante, pp. 280, 302-305 [42 Cal.Rptr. 199, 398 P.2d 391]; i.e., The three characteristics of the addiction process: (1) “emotional dependence” on the drug, (2) an increased “tolerance” to its effects, and (3) “physical dependence” manifested by withdrawal symptoms upon sudden termination of drug intake. [↩]
- Firearm Deﬁned. Pen. Code, § 16520. [↩]
- California Penal Code 16520(c) – As used in the following provisions, “firearm” also includes a rocket, rocket-propelled projectile launcher, or similar device containing explosive or incendiary material, whether or not the device is designed for emergency or distress signaling purposes, California Legislature [↩]
- California Penal Code 29820(a) – This section applies to any person who satisfies both of the following requirements: (1) The person is alleged to have committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, an offense described in subdivision (b) of Section 1203.073, any offense enumerated in Section 29805, or any offense described in Section 25850, subdivision (a) of Section 25400, or subdivision (a) of Section 26100. (2) The person is subsequently adjudged a ward of the juvenile court within the meaning of Section 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code because the person committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, an offense described in subdivision (b) of Section 1203.073, any offense enumerated in Section 29805, or any offense described in Section 25850, subdivision (a) of Section 25400, or subdivision (a) of Section 26100. (b) Any person described in subdivision (a) shall not own, or have in possession or under custody or control, any firearm until the age of 30 years. (c) A violation of this section shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. (d) The juvenile court, on forms prescribed by the Department of Justice, shall notify the department of persons subject to this section. Notwithstanding any other law, the forms required to be submitted to the department pursuant to this section may be used to determine eligibility to acquire a firearm. [↩]
- Calfornia Penal Code 29825(a) – Every person who purchases or receives, or attempts to purchase or receive, a firearm knowing that the person is prohibited from doing so by a temporary restraining order or injunction issued pursuant to Section 527.6, 527.8, or 527.85 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a protective order as defined in Section 6218 of the Family Code, a protective order issued pursuant to Section 136.2 or 646.91 of this code, or a protective order issued pursuant to Section 15657.03 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, is guilty of a public offense, which shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. (b) Every person who owns or possesses a firearm knowing that the person is prohibited from doing so by a temporary restraining order or injunction issued pursuant to Section 527.6, 527.8, or 527.85 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a protective order as defined in Section 6218 of the Family Code, a protective order issued pursuant to Section 136.2 or 646.91 of this code, or a protective order issued pursuant to Section 15657.03 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, is guilty of a public offense, which shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. [↩]
- Momentary Possession Defense. People v. Martin (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1180,1191–1192 [108 Cal.Rptr.2d 599, 25 P.3d 1081]; People v. Hurtado (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 805, 814 [54 Cal.Rptr.2d 853]; People v. Mijares (1971) 6 Cal.3d 415, 420, 423 [99 Cal.Rptr. 139, 491 P.2d 1115] [↩]
- Imminence. People v. Aris (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 1178, 1187 [264 Cal.Rptr.167], disapproved on other grounds by People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073, 1088–1089 [56 Cal.Rptr.2d 142, 921 P.2d 1] [↩]
- Possession Must Be Brief and Not Planned. People v. McClindon (1980) 114 Cal.App.3d 336, 340 [170 Cal.Rptr. 492]. [↩]
- Temporary Possession of Firearm by Felon in Self-Defense. People v. King(1978) 22 Cal.3d 12, 24 [148 Cal.Rptr. 409, 582 P.2d 1000]. [↩]
- Duty to Retreat Limited to Felon in Possession Cases. People v. Rhodes (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1339, 1343–1346 [29 Cal.Rptr.3d 226]. [↩]