Many people substantially underestimate the severity and impact a DUI conviction might have. They may brush off the idea of getting an attorney because they think a DUI charge just isn’t serious or doesn’t have real consequences. Any criminal conviction, however, may have long-lasting consequences. One potential long-term consequence surrounding a DUI conviction has to do with your right to possess firearms.
How can a DUI charge result in a loss of firearm rights?
Since firearms are tightly regulated, their use can be restricted for certain individuals, especially those accused or convicted of certain crimes. Both state and federal laws make purchasing, owning, or possessing firearms illegal for individuals considered "prohibited persons."
There are many circumstances under which DUI charges may cause you to become a prohibited person. Under Pennsylvania law, a person with three or more DUI convictions within a 5-year period fall would be barred from possessing, transferring or purchasing firearms.
Section 18 Pa.C.S. 6105(c)(3) states: A person who has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance as provided in 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) or the former 75 Pa.C.S. § 3731, on three or more separate occasions within a five-year period. For the purposes of this paragraph only, the prohibition of subsection (a) shall only apply to transfers or purchases of firearms after the third conviction.
The greater limitation on the possession of firearms falls under federal law, which for certain misdemeanor convictions imposes a lifelong firearm ban. Furthermore, under 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(1), federal legislation prevents the purchase of a firearm by an individual under indictment, i.e. a person with a pending DUI charge. Where the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania or where the maximum sentence for the charge is more than two years, both laws will be initiated or applicable. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), it is unlawful for a person to possess a firearm if the person has been convicted, pleaded guilty, or pleaded nolo contendre or no contest to a crime “punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”
In Richard Hamborsky V Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the Office of Attorney General (OAG) Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ), denying an application to purchase a firearm because of his previous conviction for DUI, graded as a first-degree misdemeanor. The application to the PA State Police (PSP) to purchase a firearm was denied because, under Section 922(g)(1) of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (FGCA), his 2011 DUI conviction disqualified him from purchasing a firearm. The FGCA prohibits any person “who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” from purchasing a firearm. The term “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is defined as “any State offense classified by the laws of the State as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.” 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)(B). Pennsylvania classifies a misdemeanor in the first-degree as one in which “a person convicted thereof may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, the maximum of which is not more than five years.”
Since Federal law limitations on the purchase or possession of a weapon for persons with pending DUI charges or convictions are linked to the severity of the penalty that can be imposed, it is obviously critical to understand the seriousness of DUI charge in Pennsylvania. If a person does not have DUI's "prior offenses," then for mandatory minimum sentencing purposes the current offense would be considered a first offense and the charge would be an ungraded misdemeanor. Such an offence has a maximum sentence of six months in prison, so no DUI first-time offender is forbidden to have a weapon.
It becomes a bit more complex when it comes to a second or subsequent driving DUI offense. DUI charges are often graded in severity based on the person's blood alcohol level, and there are three levels of penalties. People with a blood alcohol level above .16% or people charged with a drug related DUI are placed at the highest penalty level, and all non-first-time offenders with the highest penalty range are charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. That means that a conviction in the highest possible range of penalties for a second or subsequent driving under the influence offense triggers the federal firearm ban and thus prevents a person from ever again possessing a firearm.
The restrictions are not only limited to DUI convictions but can also be extended to fugitives. A fugitive from justice are those individuals who refuse to comply with terms of court and/or fail to appear in court and have warrants issued for arrest. Even if the underlying charge is a misdemeanor DUI that would not usually result in your firearm freedoms being lost, becoming a fugitive from justice in connection with that case would render you a "prohibited person" under federal and state law.
RESTORING YOUR FIREARM RIGHTS
An individual may seek pardon to restore rights of firearm ownership. A pardon would essentially set the conviction aside or nullify it. If the individual was no longer formally "convicted" of the charge, then the individual would no longer fall under the prohibition against firearms, so the individual would be allowed to possess a weapon.
The loss of civil rights, including one's right to own or possess a firearm, is a substantial penalty arising from convictions for serious crimes, and helps to illustrate the far-reaching consequences that may accompany allegations made by Driving under influence. As every case is different, understanding whether you are at risk of losing your firearm rights and understanding the additional penalties you face is an issue that can be accurately assessed by experienced lawyers in the field of criminal law.
Importantly, one should keep in mind, a DUI conviction has long lasting effects that you may never have thought of. It is imperative to consult with an attorney to go over the details of your case to ensure you do not end up with any surprises down the road.