As a society, we recognize the potential harm that firearms can cause. So obviously, there are laws prohibiting certain behaviors with guns. In Virginia, these include restrictions on where and when a firearm can be discharged, including inside or at buildings.
Unfortunately, even the most careful gun owners can make a mistake, where a firearm is accidentally discharged. This exposes people to significant charges with dire consequences. But by working with an experienced firearm lawyer, you can deal with the situation properly, which could mean getting your illegal discharge offense reduced or dismissed.
Illegal Discharge of a Firearm Within or At a Building
The foundation of the offense for illegal discharge of a firearm in or at a building is built upon § 18.2-280, illegal use of a firearm. This makes it a crime for anyone to “willfully” discharge or cause a firearm to be discharged. From there, Virginia law sets forth a variety of times and places where discharge of a firearm is illegal.
The charges are more serious for illegal discharge if people are nearby and could be harmed. Pursuant to § 18.2-279, if any person “maliciously” discharges a firearm within or at a building occupied by at least one person, the person is guilty of a Class 4 felony. But the same behavior, without malicious intent, will drop the offense to a Class 6 felony.
Penalties for these offenses if convicted are:
- Class 4 felony: two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000
It’s important to note that under § 18.2-279, any illegal discharge of a firearm in or at a school building, even if not occupied, is a Class 4 felony.
- Class 6 felony: one to five years in prison (felony) or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 (misdemeanor)
Under Virginia law, sometimes prosecutors have the discretion to charge an offense as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. Accordingly, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense of gun crimes attorney to get the best possible outcome.
Defending Against Illegal Discharge
Because felony illegal discharge must be “malicious” – except for when schools are involved – or the prosecutor must prove willful discharge, there are some defenses to gun offenses set forth in state law.
Exemptions (also known as defenses) to illegal discharge offenses include:
- Law enforcement firing a weapon in the course of duty
- Legally justified excuse, such as defending self or property
- If at school, a school sponsored or permitted activity
- Lawful hunting, if within 1000 feet of a school
Dismissing Illegal Discharge Charges
In addition to showing that an exception applies, by working with a defense lawyer, you may be able to have the illegal firearm discharge charges dismissed. Many cases end up getting dismissed by identifying flaws in the case or problems with the evidence.
Some grounds for a dismissal if you’re accused of illegally discharging a weapon at or inside a building are:
- The police lacked probable cause to arrest
- The criminal complaint or charging document was faulty
- Your charges stem from an illegal stop or search
- There’s insufficient evidence to prove you discharged the weapon
- A necessary witness to prove the charges is unavailable
Reducing to Reckless Handling Firearms
If there is no evidence of malice or willfulness, your charges could possibly be reduced to reckless handling of firearms. Under § 18.2-56.1, if you’re found to handle a firearm so as to endanger life, limb or property, you could be found guilty of reckless handling of firearms, a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, the penalty is up to a year in jail and $2,500 fine.
When compared to the possible time in custody and collateral impact of a felony gun conviction, this is a much more desirable outcome. An experienced lawyer can highlight that you lacked malicious intent and how the circumstances suggest that a lesser charge is more appropriate.
Need Help with Illegal Discharge of a Firearm Charge?
Firearm charges in Virginia are not to be taken lightly. The penalties can be harsh if convicted and you should not try to explain the situation on your own. Nor should you simply accept your fate. You deserve the chance to pursue the best possible outcome. The good news is that the experienced gun criminal charges attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help. They know how to best represent you if you’re facing an illegal discharge of a firearm within or at a building offense.