Felon in Possession of a Firearm - Penal Code 29800 PC
In the state of California, one of the consequences of being convicted of a felony is that you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. This is commonly known as the "felon with a firearm" law, codified in California Penal Code 29800 PC.
However, the law extends to anyone addicted to narcotics, has been convicted of certain firearms offenses, or is currently under an active felony warrant.
In other words, it's a felony crime for a convicted felon to own, possess, or purchase a firearm. PC 29800 applies if you have a prior felony conviction, have two or more convictions for specific misdemeanors, or are addicted to a narcotic drug.
PC 29800 says: “Any person who was convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, California, or other states, country, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has possession or under custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony crime.”
Thus, under the legal definition above, a “felon” is somebody who was convicted of a felony offense anywhere, not just in California. Also, PC 29800 applies to anyone convicted under federal laws.
Prior misdemeanor convictions include two or more convictions for Penal Code 417 PC brandishing a weapon. A “firearm” under Penal Code 29800 PC includes guns, revolvers, pistols, rifles, and shotguns, either loaded or unloaded with ammo.
The “possession” of the firearm includes actual physical possession and constructive possession, which is having reasonable access or control over it.
If you are charged with violating PC 29800, it's a felony offense punishable by up to 3 years in jail. Our California criminal defense lawyers will explain this further below.
Felon with a Firearm Law Explained
Effectively, PC 29800 makes it a crime in California to have a firearm under any of the following conditions knowingly:
- If you have been convicted of any felony offense (not just in California, but in any state or country, or by federal law);
- If there is an outstanding felony warrant against you;
- If you are addicted to narcotics; or
- If you have one or more misdemeanor convictions for brandishing a firearm (Penal Code 417 PC) or related violent firearms offenses.
Under the law, a "firearm" refers to any weapon that discharges a projectile from its barrel through force or explosion—which includes most guns and even tasers, but not pellet or BB guns.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the law defines "possessing" a weapon as having it under your control, which can mean either having it on your person or having access to it (e.g., in a drawer or cabinet that you control). Owning a weapon, purchasing it, or receiving it from another person all qualify as "possession."
Importantly, the firearm does not have to be loaded or armed to qualify as a violation of PC 29800; it just needs to be in your possession.
What Are Some Examples?
Example 1: Todd is just out of rehab for heroin addiction. He decides to go on a hunting trip with his buddies and borrows one of their rifles for the trip. Todd is guilty of felony possession solely because he is addicted to narcotics.
Example 2: After a fistfight with his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, Bill brandishes a handgun and tells him to "stay away." Bill is later arrested and convicted of misdemeanor brandishing a firearm. A similar event occurred a few years before, landing Bill an equal conviction.
A few years later, Bill is pulled over for a routine traffic violation. The police officer discovers that Bill has an unloaded handgun in the glove compartment of his car. Even though the gun is unloaded, Bill is guilty of felony possession under PC 29800 because he has two priors for brandishing a firearm.
Example 3: Dave has an outstanding warrant against him for felony residential burglary. When the police find and arrest him on the warrant, they discover a handgun that he does not own that a friend had stuffed in his bag without his knowledge.
Dave may be charged with a felony over the warrant, but he is not guilty of felony possession because he did not knowingly possess the firearm.
What Are the Related Crimes for PC 29800?
- Penal Code 245 PC – assault with a deadly weapon,
- Penal Code 25400 PC – carrying a concealed firearm,
- Penal Code 25850 PC – carrying a loaded firearm in public,
- Penal Code 16590 PC – possessing dangerous weapons,
- Penal Code 17500 PC - possess a deadly weapon to assault,
- Penal Code 417 PC – brandishing a weapon or firearm,
- Penal Code 417.6 PC - brandishing a firearm causing injury;
- Penal Code 22810 PC - unlawful use of tear gas,
- Penal Code 186.22 PC – gang sentencing enhancement,
- Penal Code 12022.53 PC – 10-20-life law for using a gun,
- Penal Code 33215 PC - short-barreled rifles;
- Penal Code 32310 PC - large-capacity magazines;
- Penal Code 30315 PC - armor-piercing bullets,
Penal Code 30210 PC - bullets containing explosives.
What Are the Penalties for Violating the Felon with a Firearm Law?
If you are charged with violating PC 29800, it is a felony offense punishable by up to three years in jail if you are convicted. Additionally, you may be fined up to $10,000.
However, depending on the circumstances surrounding your alleged offense, the judge has the latitude to impose formal probation as an alternative penalty to jail time. This penalty may be in addition to any other crimes for which you may be convicted.
What Are the Common Defenses?
If you have been charged with violating California's felon with a firearm law, an experienced criminal defense attorney can raise several possible defenses on your behalf. Some of the most common defenses to this charge are discussed below.
Perhaps you did not know that the gun was in your possession. Prosecutors must prove that you were knowingly in possession of a firearm. If your attorney can place this fact in reasonable doubt, you may not be convicted of the crime. This is a common defense in cases where the gun was hidden in your car or home without your knowledge.
Perhaps we could argue that you did not actually possess the firearm. For example, someone else in your home had the weapon under lock and key, and you did not have access to it, or you attempted to purchase the gun, and the purchase was denied due to the background check - meaning you never actually gained control of the weapon.
Perhaps we can argue momentary or justifiable possession. Your attorney argues that you temporarily possessed the firearm but only to dispose of it. For example, you removed the gun from someone to prevent a crime from occurring, and you delivered the weapon directly to the police.
Perhaps we can make an argument there was an Illegal search and seizure. Suppose the police came across the firearm during an unlawful search and seizure (i.e., without a warrant or probable cause). In that case, it could not be admissible as evidence—and since the charge involves the weapon itself, the charge will most likely be dismissed.
Through prefiling negotiations with the prosecutor, we may be able to persuade them not to file formal charges before the first court date, called a DA reject. Contact Eisner Gorin LLP for a case evaluation by phone or use the contact form.