Published on:

For People in Florida Who Want to Own a Firearm, the Prior Felony Disposition is Critical

In Florida, it is illegal for someone who has been convicted of a felony crime to own or possess a firearm. This applies to any felony conviction, so if a person who lives in Florida has a prior felony conviction from any other state, that will still prevent the person from legally having a firearm in Florida. In other words, the prior felony conviction does not have to be a Florida felony conviction.

A possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charge is a serious crime in Florida. It is a second degree felony in Florida, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors often seek prison time for a first conviction for this crime.

There can be many defenses to a possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charge. First, depending on where the gun was found in relation to the defendant, a defendant can argue that he/she was not actually in possession of the firearm. Or, a defendant can argue that he/she is not a convicted felon. Whether a person is a convicted felon seems fairly straightforward. However, in Florida, it may not be. When a person gets charged with a felony crime in Florida, he/she can either have a trial or enter a plea of guilty or no contest to the charge. If the person does enter a guilty or no contest plea, or loses at trial, the judge can do one of two things. The judge can adjudicate the defendant guilty. This means the judge is finding the defendant guilty which is a conviction under Florida law. Or, the judge can withhold adjudication of guilt. This means that the judge is not technically finding the defendant guilty (although he/she may have admitted guilt or been found guilty). As a result the defendant is not a convicted felon. Therefore, he/she is permitted under Florida law to own and possess firearms without concern for this criminal statute.

However, sometimes a person will plead guilty or no contest to a felony crime, or be found guilty at trial, and the judge will withhold adjudication but place the defendant on probation for a period of time. If the defendant violates his/her probation for some reason, the judge can change a withhold of adjudication to an adjudication of guilt. A person who starts out without a felony conviction after he/she is sentenced can become a convicted felon in the same case if he/she violates probation and the judge adjudicates him/her guilty as part of the sentence for the probation violation. The criminal defense lawyer can always try to negotiate retention of the withhold of adjudication, but some judges pull the withhold of adjudication if a person cannot complete probation.