Articles Posted in WEAPONS OFFENSES

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A recent victory by Firearms Attorneys Tilem & Associates in Queens County Supreme Court demonstrates exactly how to beat a firearms charge even in gun hating states like New York. While New York prosecutors seek to strictly enforce New York’s draconian gun laws, it turns out that jurors and judges may not be completely sold on incarcerating lawful gun owners who run afoul ofNew York gun laws.

The client, who lawfully purchased his firearm in Florida and who was in New York for about three weeks before being arrested, was arrested and charged after he was stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. During the car stop, the police alleged that he acted nervously prompting them to ask the client if he had any weapons in his car. The Client told the police that he had his firearm in the center console and was immediately taken out of his car and arrested. A loaded 9 mm firearm was discovered in the center console of the vehicle and the client was charged with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, a charge which carries a mandatory minimum of 3 and ½ years in prison even for a first offender. The maximum he faced was 15 years in prison.

Plea Negotiations

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New York has banned the possession of stun guns by listing them as “per se” weapons in the Penal Law. Possession by a civilian even in a person’s home constitutes Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. There is no license available for civilians to be able to possess stun guns. Rather New York, like Massachusetts and New Jersey have a total ban on civilian possession of stun guns. However, last month, in the first Second Amendment case decided by the Supreme Court in years and in a stunning rebuke of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ total ban on stun guns and found that stun guns, like any “bearable arms” are subject to the protections of the Second Amendment.

In Heller, in 2008 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment “extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” Bearable arms, is a very broad term that encompasses much more than firearms which are the usual focus of Second Amendment jurisprudence thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association and other similar groups. As a result of the focus on firearms very little has been written about other “bearable arms.” Two years later in McDonald, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment is fully applicable to the States.

In the case of CAETANO v. MASSACHUSETTS, decided last month by the US Supreme Court, the Court criticized the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ analysis of the Massachusetts stun gun ban. The Massachusetts high court offered three explanations for why stun guns were not protected by the Second Amendment and the US high court rebuked them for each one explaining that each reason given was inconsistent with the Heller decision. First, the Massachusetts Court tried to explain that Stun Guns were not in general use at the time of ratification of the Second Amendment despite the fact that Heller specifically rejected that argument in 2008. Next the Massachusetts Court argued that Stun Guns were not adaptable for military use another argument specifically rejected in Heller. Lastly, the Massachusetts Court suggested that Stun Guns were an unusual weapon an argument that the Supreme Court equated with the first argument that they were not around during the time of ratification of the Second Amendment.

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As New York Criminal Defense Lawyers we have sounded the alarm on numerous occasions about the draconian enforcement of New York Knife laws by New York City Police Officers and the 5 New York City District Attorney’s Offices. Now an amendment to the New York State Penal Law may severely restrict those arrests if the bill passes the full Senate and the New York assembly. The scope of the problem is enormous. A report in the Village Voice found that more than 60,000 individuals have been arrested for possessing common pocket knives.

The problem stems from the definition of a “gravity knife” found in New York Penal Law 265.00(5). The definition essentially includes as a gravity knife, any lock back knife that can be opened by the application of centrifugal force. That is to say that if a 250 pound police officer can “flip” opened a knife, the knife can be a considered a gravity knife.

The proposed fix to the law would require prosecutors to prove “unlawful intent” before they can convict someone of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree to convict for possessing a Gravity Knife.

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As experienced New York Second Amendment Lawyers we often think that we have seen it all but recently we handled a gun case using the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) also commonly called HR218 as a defense to New York State gun charges under some unusual circumstances. Just as a primer, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is a federal law that provides a defense to State weapons charges for both active law enforcement officers and “qualified retired law enforcement officers.” Essentially it gives Law Enforcement Officers and Retired Law Enforcement Officers the right to carry a firearm in all 50 states. Despite this well established Federal Law a gentleman who was both a Special Police Officer for the Sheriff’s Department and a retired Police Officer was arrested and charged with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in New York for having three unregistered handguns in his home.

Two questions that I immediately raised when I became the client’s third attorney were firstly, how can a law enforcement officer, a peace officer, a special police officer under New York law who according to the New York State Penal Law (PL §265.20) is exempt from prosecution be prosecuted in a New York State Court and secondly, how could the police, the prosecutor and the two prior criminal defense attorneys have missed these obvious defenses. Sadly, despite the successful conclusion of the case and the successful conclusion of the County’s futile attempt to revoke his pistol license, I still do not know the answers to my question.

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New York firearms attorneys Tilem & Associates have been following the increasing number of guns recovered at US airports and more specifically the guns being recovered at local airports such as LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark with sometimes devastating consequences. As reported in the New York Times in June 2014, from 2011 until June 2014 the TSA had seen a steady rise in guns recovered by screeners in airport security lines. TSA is now reporting another 20% increase in 2015. While a majority of these guns are recovered in places with relatively lax gun laws such as:

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport — 153 guns recovered

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — 144 guns recovered

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Again, at JFK airport in Queens, New York, Tilem & Associates beat another handgun ammunition charge after a client was found bringing handgun ammunition through the TSA screening area. As described in a previous blog, the New York City administrative code makes it illegal to possess handgun ammunition unless a person is licensed to possess a pistol or unless the person is a dealer in rifles or shotguns.

As described in the previous blog, section 10-131 of the New York City Code is somewhat convoluted and specifically 10-131(i)(3) contains two exceptions right in the statute. 1. that the law does not apply to a person “authorized” to possess a pistol or revolver. 2. that the law doesn’t apply to a dealer in rifles and shotguns. As explained previously, when a statute in New York contains an exception within the statute, the exception must be both pleaded and proved. In other words, the police are required to allege both that the defendant was not authorized to possess a pistol or revolver and that the defendant was not a dealer in rifles and shotguns. Absent those specific allegations in the accusatory instrument, the case should be dismissed.

This is unusual because, for example, in drafting a charge for possession of an illegal pistol, the police or prosecutor would not be required to establish that person was not authorized to possess the pistol. Rather, the possession of a license or some legal authority to possess the weapon is an exemption contained in a different statute. Since the exception is not found within the statute but rather outside the specific statute the police or prosecutor do not need to plead or prove the exemption.

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New York gun crimes law firm Tilem & Associates is pleased to announce another victory in a firearms related case, winning a full dismissal of all charges after a person was charged with possessing handgun ammunition and a handgun magazine at JFK airport. As reported almost 6 years ago in our blog about New York City’s ban on commonly possessed items, possession of handgun ammunition and ammunition feeding devices are illegal in the five boroughs of New York City under New York City Administrative Code Section 10-131. That section makes it a misdemeanor, to possess these items punishable by up to one year in jail.

The difficulty with section §10-131 is that it is very long, containing a large number of subdivisions, poorly written and has a large number of exceptions written into the statute. §10-131 subdivision (i)(3) states in pertinent part: “It shall be unlawful for any person not authorized to possess a pistol or revolver within the city of New York to possess pistol or revolver ammunition, provided that a dealer in rifles and shotguns may possess such ammunition.”

In the case at JFK airport, the police officer in the accusatory instrument alleged only, in pertinent part that “. . . at Terminal 5 – JFKIA main screening Lane 13, suspect was in possession of two magazines holding six rounds of 9mm ammunition in each.” Yet, it is a well settled principle of New York law that where an exception is contained within a statute the prosecutor or the police are required to disprove the exception. In this case for example the police would have been obligated as a matter of law to establish that the accused was not a dealer in rifles and shotguns. Since the police failed to make that accusation, the accusatory instrument was insufficient as a matter of law and needed to be dismissed.

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As we already reported in an earlier blog, earlier this week Westchester Journal News Reporter Dwight R. Worley thought it was news worthy to publish the names and addresses of all licensed gun owners in Westchester and Rockland Counties. Under the First Amendment that is his right. However Dwight R. Worley also has a home address and he apparently has a licensed Smith & Wesson .357 magnum revolver at that address. We thought that the old expression “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” was perfect for just this situation, so here it is:

Dwight R Worley

23006 139 Ave

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Firearms defense firm Tilem & Campbell is very unhappy to report that a local newspaper has outed local law-abiding gun owners. In the modern day equivalent of the scarlet letter the Journal News has published an article in today’s paper with an interactive on-line map that discloses the names of addresses of all law abiding gun owners in Westchester and Rockland Counties. The information was obtained by a Freedom of Information law request to the County clerks of each county.

Exactly the point of the article is not clear but is an apparent attack on law abiding gun owners who may face consequences at their work or in social circles now that their ownership of firearms has been publicized. The map also appears to have the names and addresses of several sworn police officers who for obvious reasons generally keep their residence information a secret. The article, an apparent reaction to the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, ironically puts everyone in danger in that it tells would be murders, terrorists, psychos and other people who are inellegible to purchase guns lawfully, exactly where they can steal them.

The basis for such a publication unfortunately has its basis under New York law. No civilian may lawfully purchase or possess a firearm in New York without a permit issue under Penal Law § 400.00 which defines the types of gun license in New York and the rules for issuing them. Penal Law § 400.00(5) specifically requires the filing of all approved applications and goes on to state: “The name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.” Penal law § 400.00(5). Apparently, Paul Piperato, the Rockland County Clerk, expressed some reluctance in giving up these records even as he apparently released the records under New York Law. “You have judges, policemen, retired policemen, FBI agents — they have permits,” Piperato said. “Once you allow the public to see where they live, that puts them in harm’s way.”

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As a New York criminal defense lawyer that handles an inordinate number of gun related cases, I hear a large number of stories about the interaction between the police and law abiding gun owners. After more than 20 years, however, very few cases shock me. What happened after a Westchester County gun owner called a suicide hotline bears repeating as a cautionary tale to law abiding citizens everywhere.

A Westchester County gun owner owner got the surprise of his life when he called a suicide hot line to talk about tools to manage depression. After the gun owner’s wife from whom he had been separated introduced him to her new boyfriend, and after having suffered a medical condition the loss of his home and the break up of his marriage the gun owner decided to call a suicide help line for help and instead ended up with more trouble.

The gun owner clearly remembers calling 1800 SUICIDE to ask about tools for managing depression. He also recalls that he started out the conversation by telling the operator that he wasn’t going to hurt himself or anyone else but that he simply wanted information. The operator then steered the conversation to whether or not there was a child in the house (there was) and whether or not there were guns in the house (there were). Within a very short time of answering that there were guns in the house, and while still on the telephone, the Westchester County gun owner heard a knock at the door. It was the police.