Pinellas County is one of the strictest jurisdictions in the State of Florida when it comes to prosecutions of concealed firearms and concealed weapons charges. If you are under investigation or have been arrested for either of these charges, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney because your freedom is unfortunately in jeopardy.
Although both charges are taken seriously and vigorously prosecuted by the 6th Circuit Office of the State Attorney, the main difference is that concealed weapons charges are misdemeanors and concealed firearms charges are felonies. This disparity in terms of potential punishment can mean the difference between going to prison or probation. The hiring of an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you the
Definition of Carrying a Concealed Weapon:
The crime of carrying a concealed weapon is controlled by Florida Statute 790.01(1). It states that one is prevented from carrying a concealed weapon on or about his or her person. A weapon is defined as any dirk, metallic knuckles, sling-shot, billie club, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device , or any other deadly weapon. It is up to a jury to decide whether the object was being carried for a weapon.
Definition of Carrying a Concealed Firearm:
The crime of carrying a concealed firearm is controlled by Florida Statute 790.01(2). It states that the crime is committed when a person knowingly carries on or about their person a firearm that is concealed from ordinary sight.
Court Process for Concealed Firearm or Concealed Weapon Charges:
In Pinellas County, the standard is that a defendant is arrested for either of the charges. Law enforcement do not use Notices to Appear for these types of charges and it is unlikely that the charge will come directly from the State Attorney’s Office without a preceding arrest. That means that you should expect an arrest based on probable cause at the scene of the incident. What happens after the arrest is also standard. Within 2-3 weeks of the arrest, the case will be assigned to a prosecutor. The prosecutor will review the police reports and speak to the arresting officer to determine the strength of the case. It is during this investigation stage that a criminal defense attorney should be involved on your behalf. We are often able to get the charges dismissed or reduced at this stage by presenting defensive or mitigating evidence. At the conclusion of the investigation stage, if the prosecutor determines that he or she can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, a formal charge, or an Information will be filed. This will usually take place about two months after the arrest, give or take. If you have been charged, you will receive a notice in the mail for an Arraignment. If your lawyer has entered a not guilty plea on your behalf already, the Arraignment will be waived and you do not need to be there. After the Arraignment, the prosecutor will send to your lawyer all of the police reports, witness information, and evidence that will be used in the case. A good criminal defense attorney will send you all of the evidence, ask you to review it and then discuss the plans for the case. You will then receive notices for pre-trial hearings, which you must be present at. A pre-trial hearing is simply a status check and the judge will ask your lawyer about what he or she intends to do and ask the prosecutor what they are seeking for punishment. Most judges in Pinellas County will allow you to have three pre-trial hearings before setting the case for trial. Very few cases actually go to trial in Pinellas County because of the significant penalties that will assuredly be imposed by the court if the defendant loses. Thus, the best way to obtain a dismissal or get leniency is to get ahead of the charge and put together a plan with your lawyer before the case gets off track.
Penalties for Concealed Firearm or Concealed Weapon charges:
The crime of carrying a concealed firearm is a third degree felony. In addition to a felony conviction, you could be sentenced to up to a $5,000 fine, up to five years of Florida State prison, or up to five years of probation supervised by the Florida Department of Corrections. All of these charges are prosecuted in circuit court, or on the 4th Floor of the Pinellas Justice Center.
The crime of carrying a concealed weapon is a first degree misdemeanor. In additional to a misdemeanor conviction, you could be sentenced to up to a $1,000 fine, up to one year of misdemeanor probation supervised by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and up to one year of jail to be served in the Pinellas County Jail. All of these charges are assigned to county court on the third floor of the Pinellas County Justice Center.
Defenses and Exceptions:
Some of the most common defenses apply to both types of charges. The most common is simply that the defendant was not in possession of the weapon or firearm. In this situation, the contraband was not on the person and may have been within the area of another person or persons. Another common defense is lack of knowledge. A common example is in a vehicle either owned or driven by another and a weapon or firearm is found in the car. If there is no admission by a defendant, then the State will have difficulty proving that the defendant knew the contraband was present. Another common defense is that the weapon or firearm was not concealed. The most common example of this situation occurs when a vehicle is stopped and a weapon or firearm is found on the floorboard. As long as the windows are not tinted so that one cannot see within the car, and the contraband is clearly visible, then it is not concealed by law.
An exception to both charges is when the defendant had a permit. This is called a concealed carry permit and many residents of Florida possess one. Florida honors concealed carry permits for every state that has reciprocity.
Another exception for both charges occurs in the home or place of business. A person may lawfully carry a concealed weapon or firearm around their home or their place of business.
Yet another exception applies to your vehicle as long as it is securely encased or not readily accessible for immediate use. Securely encased is defined as being in the glove box or in a closed box or container that requires a lid or cover to be opened for access. Whether the weapon or firearm is readily accessible is determined by virtue of where the contraband is located when contact with law enforcement occurs. Again, with the vehicle example mentioned above, if the weapon or firearm is located under your seat and hidden when you are stopped, that could be the basis of a crime.
There are at least two unique exceptions to a concealed weapon charge. The first is the common pocket knife exception. You are permitted to carry a pocket knife as long as the blade is under 4 inches long. Switchblades, butterfly knives and the like are not considered to be common pocket knives.
The second exception is for self defense products not otherwise specifically banned in the statute. This means that chemical sprays for defense (such as mace or pepper spray) are permitted. Additionally, stun guns or dart firing stun guns are permitted as long as they are non-lethal and are designed solely for defensive purposes.
The bottom line for both of the charges is that there are numerous defenses to these charges that can be utilized. However, only an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise when and how to present this information to the prosecutor assigned to your case.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Pinellas County
At St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I specialize in Pinellas County cases. I have found that this specialization helps me gain extraordinary insight into the practices, habits and preferences of the judges and the State Attorney’s Office. Whenever I see lawyers from other counties coming into the courtroom, I instantly am aware that they and their clients are at a disadvantage. There is simply no substitute for being in front of the same judges and the same prosecutors on a daily basis and this can only be accomplished by routinely handling cases in Pinellas County. With respect to the charges addressed in this article, the courts in Pinellas County take them very seriously, and the sooner that a lawyer can get involved, the better a defendant’s chances for a positive outcome. While concealed weapons charges can result in jail time, concealed firearms charges can result in felony convictions or prison. I have handled countless cases involving both of these charges over my career and am confident that I can help regardless of the circumstances. If you have been arrested or are under investigation for carrying a concealed weapon or concealed firearm, please contact me immediately for a consultation.