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Unlawful Possession of a Weapon

By Spodek Law Group | February 12, 2023
(Last Updated On: February 21, 2023)

Last Updated on: 21st February 2023, 02:36 am

Possession of Firearms in Motor Vehicles: Understanding the Law and Defending Your Rights

When it comes to criminal cases, motor vehicles are often involved, especially those concerning charges for possession of a weapon. A single motor vehicle stop and ensuing search can result in various weapon offenses, including Possession of an Illegal Handgun, Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purpose, and Certain Person Not to be in Possession of a Firearm. If you face firearm or weapon possession charges in a motor vehicle, our attorneys can help ensure you receive the maximum protection available under the law.

New Jersey Law: Possession of Firearm or Weapon in a Motor Vehicle

In NJ, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-2 is the law that sets forth certain presumptions that apply to possession of a weapon, such as a Firearm, Weapon, Destructive Device, Silencer, or Explosives in a Motor Vehicle. It’s crucial to note that 2C:39-2 applies to all forms of vehicles, including automobiles, trucks, buses, tractor-trailers, boats, and cars. The law presumes that a handgun, shotgun, rifle, or weapon found in a motor vehicle is in the possession of its occupant(s). There are exceptions to this presumption where the weapon is found on the person of a single occupant, in an enclosed depository of a motor vehicle, or in a taxi cab. A savvy attorney can help you navigate these exceptions and understand your rights.

Defending Handgun or Firearms Offenses Seized in a Car or Truck

In cases where an illegal handgun, rifle, shotgun, or other firearm is discovered in a motor vehicle, there are numerous defenses that a savvy attorney can pursue. The primary focus is on the legality of the search and seizure. A seasoned attorney can challenge the motor vehicle stop if a warrant was lacking, or the police failed to establish reasonable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation. They can also scrutinize the nature of the questioning that ensued and determine whether the encounter was tantamount to an interrogation. In such cases, probable cause must exist to arrest. A proper basis to conduct a search of the vehicle is also a primary issue, among others. A savvy New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer can evaluate these issues and devise a strategy that defends your rights and interests.


If you face firearm or weapon possession charges in a motor vehicle, it’s essential to understand the law and your rights. A seasoned attorney can help you navigate the complexities of the law and ensure you receive the maximum protection available. With a strong defense strategy, you can fight to protect your rights and clear your name.

New Jersey’s Unlawful Possession of a Weapon Charge: Why You Need an Experienced Defense Lawyer

New Jersey’s firearm laws are stringent and all-encompassing. From possession to use, sale, and discharge, the laws deal with almost every contingency. N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, in particular, focuses on the unlawful possession of weapons, including machine guns, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and other items. A conviction for possessing any of these items in violation of 2C:39-5 can result in a felony on your record and years in prison. That’s why it’s crucial to consult with an experienced defense lawyer, preferably one who has successfully defended weapon charges in the past.

The Countless Number of Items Covered by N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, an extensive range of items falls under the definition of a weapon. Certain varieties, such as handguns and rifles, are named explicitly because they frequently arise in New Jersey’s Superior Court. However, this article focuses on “other weapons” under 2C:39-5(d), which includes anything that is not a firearm. This statute states that “any person who knowingly has in his possession any weapon [other than a handgun, rifle, shotgun, or machine gun] under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses as it may have is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.”

The Elements of the Offense

To be convicted under this subsection, four elements must be established: the existence of a weapon, possession by the defendant, the defendant’s knowledge of the nature and character of the instrument, and circumstances demonstrating that the object was not manifestly appropriate for lawful use.

The Definition of a Weapon

The term “weapon” under 2C:39-5 includes anything that is readily capable of lethal use or inflicting serious bodily injury, in addition to firearms. Examples include gravity knives, switchblade knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, dangerous knives, billies, blackjacks, bludgeons, metal knuckles, sandclubs, slingshots, cestis, and similar leather bands studded with metal filings or razor blades embedded in wood, stun guns, and any other weapon that projects, releases, or emits tear gas or any other substance intended to produce temporary physical discomfort or permanent injury by being vaporized or otherwise dispensed in the air.

Actual or Constructive Possession

Possession is established when there is direct control over the object or when an individual is aware of the existence of the object and has the ability and intention to exercise control over it.

In conclusion, New Jersey’s firearm laws are complex and extensive, particularly with regard to the unlawful possession of weapons. If you’re facing charges under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, it’s essential to consult with an experienced defense lawyer who can help you navigate the legal system and defend your rights.

Understanding the Law:
When it comes to weapons, there are certain circumstances that are not considered appropriate for lawful use. These situations involve either a threat of harm to a person or damage to property.

An Example:
For instance, if someone possesses a paintball gun with the intention of firing it at an automobile, it would not be considered manifestly appropriate for lawful use. While a paintball gun can be possessed for lawful use, the situation changes when it is used inappropriately, making the possession illegal.

How to Determine Lawful vs. Illegal Use:
A useful test to determine whether a use of a weapon is lawful or illegal is to consider the New Jersey Model Jury Question: “if you find that the circumstances under which the weapon was possessed could not be easily understood or recognized as being appropriate to a lawful use of the instrument in question here then possession of the weapon is prohibited.” (State v. Wright, 96 N.J. 170, 172 (1984)) This question can also be applied to the possession of a knife, and factors such as size, shape, condition, means of concealment, and the manner in which the knife was used, would be highly relevant.

Separate Independant Crime
A Different Charge:
It’s important to note that this offense, unlawful possession of a weapon, is separate and distinct from other weapons-related charges such as Possession of a Weapon or Firearm for Unlawful Purpose, Possession of a Firearm During CDS Activities, or a Certain Person Not To Possess A Weapon. This offense applies independently under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d) when included in a complaint, charge, or indictment.

Similarities with Illegal Weapon Possession:
There are similarities between this offense and Possession of an Illegal Weapon. Both are considered Fourth Degree crimes and require many of the same elements to prove a violation. However, the charge of Unlawful Possession of a Weapon is more comprehensive and has the potential to encompass virtually anything that can be used as a weapon, whereas the Illegal Weapon offense is limited to specific weapons listed in the statute, such as a sawed-off shotgun, high capacity magazine, silencer, hollow tip bullets, assault rifle, or body armor.

Self–Defense: A Viable Defense
Protecting Yourself:
Self-defense can be a valid defense against a charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d), but it’s limited to situations where the use of the weapon was a spontaneous response to a compelling danger. The defense cannot be invoked if an individual was carrying the weapon as a precaution.

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