Whether for personal protection or recreational use, carrying a handgun is a right protected by law. However, in Tennessee, this right is accompanied by strict regulations, especially when it comes to possession under the influence of substances. Being caught unaware can lead to serious legal ramifications, including fines, jail time, and long-term consequences on firearm rights. In this informative post, we delve into the specifics of Tennessee’s laws regarding Possession of a Handgun Under the Influence, and how Barnes & Fersten can provide legal support if you face such charges.
Tennessee's Law on Possession of Handgun While Under the Influence
Tennessee Code § 39-17-1321 clearly defines the regulations surrounding handgun possession while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or controlled substance analogues. The law states:
- General Prohibition: Regardless of whether a person holds a handgun permit issued under various Tennessee statutes, it is unlawful to possess a handgun if the individual is under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance or controlled substance analogue.
- Within Specific Establishments: The law further makes it an offense to possess a firearm if the person is within an establishment open to the public where liquor, wine, or other alcoholic beverages, or beer are served for consumption on the premises, and is consuming any alcoholic beverage listed. Many people, including officers, believe simply being in a restaurant or a bar with a gun is against the law. However, the law requires that the State prove the defendant was consuming alcohol at the establishment. This law was created due to the amount of restaurants that serve alcohol and individuals being entitled to lawfully carry in a restaurant but only under the circumstances of the individual not consuming alcohol at the restaurant.
- Potential Enhancements: Certain aggravating factors, such as possessing the handgun while committing another crime, might lead to enhanced penalties. The specifics of the situation can significantly impact the severity of the charges.
- Permit Suspension: If the violation occurs in an establishment as described, and the individual has a handgun permit, the permit shall be suspended for three (3) years. This is an automatic consequence and highlights the importance of compliance with all aspects of the law.
Penalties for Possession of a Handgun Under the Influence
The penalties for possession of a handgun under the influence in Tennessee are comprehensive and are designed to discourage irresponsible firearm handling:
- Class A Misdemeanor: Conviction can result in up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, along with a fine of up to $2,500. This penalty serves as a baseline for individuals found guilty of the offense.
- Firearm Seizure: The arresting officer may seize the firearm, subject to further legal proceedings. The law permits law enforcement to take immediate control of the weapon to ensure public safety.
- Potential Additional Charges: Depending on the situation, other related charges such as DUI or public intoxication might be applicable. These can compound the legal difficulties and lead to more severe penalties.
- Impact on Future Firearm Rights: A conviction can also affect your future ability to legally own or possess firearms. Though the conviction is a misdemeanor, it may have long-term implications on your constitutional rights.
- Permit Revocation and Suspension: Along with the immediate suspension of a permit as outlined in the law, a conviction may lead to further administrative actions regarding your ability to carry a handgun legally in Tennessee.
Common Defenses for Possession of Handgun Under the Influence in Tennessee
If you are charged with possession of a handgun under the influence in Tennessee, you may feel hopeless and think that there is no way to fight the charge. However, this is not true. There are some legal defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to challenge the charge and protect your rights. Some of the common defenses for possession of a handgun under the influence in Tennessee are:
Challenging the Legality of the Stop, Search, or Arrest
The police must have a valid reason to stop, search, or arrest you. They cannot do so based on a hunch, a tip, or a profile. They must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that you are committing or have committed a crime. If the police violated your constitutional rights by stopping, searching, or arresting you without a valid reason, your attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the illegal stop, search, or arrest. This could result in the dismissal of your charge or the reduction of your penalties.
Questioning the Accuracy of Breathalyzer or Blood Tests
The police may use a breathalyzer or a blood test to determine if you are intoxicated. However, these tests are not always accurate or reliable. There are many factors that can affect the results of these tests, such as human error, machine malfunction, calibration issues, medical conditions, medications, mouth alcohol, etc. If the breathalyzer or blood test was administered improperly or inaccurately, your attorney can challenge the validity of the test results and cast doubt on the evidence against you.
In many cases we have handled at Barnes & Fersten, officers are trained on how to establish someone is under the influence by the National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration in a DUI case. Yet, despite all the ways officers are trained to do standardized field sobriety testing and get a blood or breath sample to establish impairment in a DUI case, often officers do not use that training in a possession of a handgun under the influence case. However, like a DUI case, the State must prove the defendant was under the influence beyond a reasonable doubt, but officers do not care to do their full and through investigation to determine impairment in a non-DUI case. Thus, often creating reasonable doubt in and of itself.
Presenting Evidence of Medical Conditions or Medications That Could Mimic Intoxication
Some medical conditions or medications might not only interfere with BAC test results but also cause symptoms that resemble intoxication. Conditions like diabetes, neurological disorders, or side effects from certain medications could lead to slurred speech, impaired coordination, or other signs typically associated with being under the influence. If you have a medical condition or take medication that could create these symptoms or affect the test results, your attorney can present evidence from medical professionals. This evidence can explain your specific condition or medication and how it could be mistaken for intoxication, thereby challenging the validity of the charge.
These are some of the common defenses for possession of a handgun under the influence in Tennessee. However, every case is different and requires a customized approach. That is why it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case and advise you on the best defense strategy for your situation.
Can I Get My Handgun Back?
If you are arrested for possession of a handgun under the influence, the police may seize your handgun as evidence. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to get your handgun back after your case is resolved.
The first step is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can represent you in court and negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf. Your attorney can help you understand your legal options and advise you on the best course of action.
If you are found not guilty or your case is dismissed, you can file a motion with the court to return your property. You will need to provide proof of ownership and show that there are no other legal impediments to getting your handgun back. For example, if you have another pending criminal charge or restraining order that prohibits you from possessing firearms, you will not be able to get your handgun back until those issues are resolved.
In any case, getting your handgun back after being arrested for possession under the influence is not easy and may take time and effort. That is why it is important to consult with an attorney who can guide you through the process and protect your rights. In many cases, forfeiture of the weapon helps get the case resolved as well so it is important to weigh your options with your attorney’s advise to make the right decision for you because every case is different and requires an informed decision by the right legal counsel.
Responsible Handgun Storage to Prevent Possession Under the Influence Charges
Possession of a handgun under the influence can lead to serious legal consequences in Tennessee. Implementing responsible handgun storage practices can be a key preventive measure, ensuring that firearms remain inaccessible while under the influence or in compromising situations. Here are some tips for responsible handgun storage:
- Secure Storage: Utilize a lockbox, safe, or other secure storage device that can only be accessed by authorized persons. Avoid leaving your handgun unattended in accessible places like your car, purse, or backpack, where it could be stolen or accessed while under the influence.
- Explore Various Options: Investigate the numerous secure storage devices available, such as biometric safes, trigger locks, cable locks, and gun cases. Select the one that aligns best with your needs and preferences, considering factors like accessibility during an emergency and your specific living situation.
- Educate Those Around You: If family members, friends, or guests may access your handgun, ensure they are versed in basic gun safety rules and proper handling techniques. Respect their views on gun ownership and guide them responsibly. This is particularly vital if someone may access the firearm while under the influence, as it could result in legal consequences for both parties.
- Child Safety Considerations: Children may be naturally curious about firearms. To prevent potential mishaps, store your handgun out of sight and reach of children. Educate them about gun safety, emphasizing the importance of not touching a firearm and alerting an adult if they encounter one.
Protect Your Rights With Barnes & Fersten
Possession of a handgun under the influence is a serious offense in Tennessee, with penalties ranging from fines, jail time, and potential impact on your firearm rights. It’s vital to have knowledgeable legal representation if you find yourself facing these charges.
At Barnes & Fersten, our criminal defense attorneys are ready to help. With extensive experience in Tennessee’s DUI and criminal defense law, we will work tirelessly to protect your rights, present a robust defense, and guide you through the legal process. If you need assistance with possession of a handgun under the influence charges, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation today.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.