In a recent criminal case in Jacksonville, Florida, the police were executing a search warrant at the defendant’s home and found several guns throughout the house along with ammunition for some of the guns. The defendant had previously been convicted of a felony. In Florida, a convicted felon is not permitted to own or possess a firearm. Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a serious felony crime for which the state often recommends jail or prison time.
In this case, all of the guns and the ammunition were found in the same home (although in different places within the home) and during the same search. The state charged the defendant with multiple counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon- one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for each firearm and one count of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon for all of the ammunition.
A motion to dismiss the charges was filed alleging that the state was only permitted to charge the defendant with one count of possession of a firearm or ammunition by a convicted felon for all of the items found in the home. Based on the wording of this criminal statute, the state was not allowed to file multiple charges for the multiple firearms or even separate charges for the firearms and ammunition. The judge’s ruling was mixed, and we eventually appealed to the appellate court.
The appellate court ruled for the defendant. The statute making it a crime to possess a firearm(s) or ammunition after having been convicted of a felony was written in such a way that the state is limited to charging just one count of either possession of a firearm by a convicted felon or possession of ammunition by a convicted felon in a situation where the polcie find multiple firearms and/or ammunition during a single incident.
This has at least two significant benefits for the defendant. The crimes of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon are serious charges and carry maximum penalties of 5 years in prison for each count. Limiting the state to a single charge obviously limits the defendants exposure to a greater prison sentence. Also, when the state presents the jury with several gun and ammunition charges, it has the effect of prejudicing the jury and making the case and the defendant look worse than they really are. Therefore, limiting the state to one charge does not unfairly prejudice the defendant before the jury hears the evidence.