Convicted for Felony Gun Possession—Even With a Valid Gun License?

The Dangers of Crossing State Lines With a Handgun

In June of 2017, former NBA player Sebastian Telfair was pulled over for failing to use his headlights. Once the officers smelled marijuana, a vehicle search became inevitable, and police subsequently turned up three loaded handguns, a submachine gun, extended magazines, a bullet proof vest, a serious amount of ammunition, and of course, a bit of marijuana. At the time of his arrest, Telfair had a valid license to carry the firearms in the State of Florida. He also, however, had a prior conviction for firearms violations stemming from a 2007 arrest. Following a jury trial in Brooklyn, Telfair was found guilty. Facing 15 years in prison, he was ultimately sentenced to three-and-a-half. For our purposes, the big question here is: How would this case play out if you transported it to Indiana? To analyze this, we need to break it down.

The Stop

Telfair was originally stopped because he didn’t have his headlights on. For any Indiana motorist who’s driving between sunset and sunrise (or at any other time with insufficient light), this is a perfectly valid reason for a police officer to initiate a traffic stop.

The Search

Upon approaching the vehicle, the officers who stopped Telfair claimed they were able to detect the odor of burnt marijuana. Generally speaking, this simple assertion gives police probable cause to search the car, and it doesn’t matter whether they find any corroborating cannabis or not. If you’re a police officer, saying that you smell weed is as good as getting a search warrant, and it’s a heck of a lot quicker. In fact, this is the most common excuse for warrantless vehicle searches in Indiana. It should go without saying, but let’s be clear: It’s a bad idea to smoke drugs in your car.

The Charges

If these events took place in Indiana, Telfair would likely be charged with unlawful possession of a handgun. For a first-time offender, this would be a Class A misdemeanor. With a prior firearm-related conviction, however, it would be charged as a Level 5 felony, which includes a term of one-to-six years in the Indiana Department of Correction.

It’s more difficult to predict what might happen with regard to the submachine gun. Indiana has a law that makes it a Level 5 felony to knowingly or intentionally own or possess a machine gun, but it also has an exception for people possessing machine guns “under applicable United States statutes.” Without more information, it’s hard to say how (or even if) this would be charged.

As far as the bulletproof vest goes, it’s legal to own body armor in Indiana, and you’re even allowed to wear it for personal and professional protection. It’s a Level 6 felony, however, to knowingly or intentionally use body armor while committing a separate felony. In this case, it doesn’t appear that the vest was in use at the time of arrest, so it’s unlikely that there’d be an additional felony charge for the body armor. For an in-depth look at what sort of trouble a Hoosier might be facing for marijuana possession, click here.

All of this is assuming that the case stays in State Court and doesn’t get picked up by the Federal Government. If the United States Department of Justice were to get involved, this would undoubtedly open up a bigger and scarier can of worms. 

The Trial

This is where things get interesting. In all likelihood, if Telfair were arrested and tried in Indiana, the State probably wouldn’t succeed on all charges. The main reason for this is that Telfair had a valid Florida carry license. Indiana has reciprocity agreements with several states when it comes to handgun licenses, and Florida is one of them. As a result, in Indiana, Telfair would be able to defend himself by asserting the validity of his Florida license.

The submachine gun might also be a wild card. Indiana defines machine gun by statute as a weapon that shoots or can be readily restored to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. If the gun found in Telfair’s vehicle were to meet the statutory definition of a machine gun, then he’d be facing a Level 5 felony for that gun alone. If, on the other hand, the submachine gun was found to be something other than a machine gun, it’s hard to imagine an Indiana jury convicting a man for exercising his Second Amendment Rights.

Side Notes

Indiana requires handgun licenses, but not always. For example, it’s legal for you to keep a gun in your home, and you don’t need a license for that. You can also keep a gun at someone else’s residence, provided you have the homeowner’s permission. There’s an additional exception for vehicles—you’re legally permitted to carry a firearm in your vehicle if the gun is not loaded, the magazine and firearm body are separate, and the weapon is locked.  

Obtaining a license to carry in Indiana is a pretty straightforward process. Even better is the fact that Indiana’s carry license is recognized in 33 other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Michigan. It’s worth noting that Illinois does not recognize any licensure reciprocity, and ignorance of this fact is not a defense. In other words, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that is not likely to get you out of trouble. It’s every gun owner’s responsibility to know each State’s laws regarding the carrying and transportation of firearms.  

When it comes to carrying a handgun, the easiest way to make sure you’re not charged with a criminal offense is to simply get a license to carry. The process only takes a little bit of time. You can read more about how to obtain your license to carry a handgun by clicking here.

When your entire future is at stake, it’s important to hire a knowledgeable and savvy attorney to guide you through the judicial process. With the Marc Lopez Law Firm, you’ll get an entire team of experienced defense lawyers fighting on your behalf. If you or someone you love one has been charged with any type of gun-related crime, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642. Initial consultations are always free of charge.