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Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm

Firearms are dangerous and can cause extensive damages. For this reason, it is a crime under Arizona law to discharge a gun unlawfully. A conviction of unlawful discharge of a firearm in Arizona might lead to imprisonment and hefty fines. Therefore, it is crucial to contact an attorney immediately after an accusation of unlawful discharge of a firearm. If you or your loved one is facing charges for this offense, the Phoenix Criminal Attorney can help you create a defense to fight the charges.

Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm Under Arizona Law

The state of Arizona has the most liberal laws in the U.S. regarding who can carry a firearm. As provided under the Arizona constitution, almost every person above 21 years can carry a gun. However, certain restrictions exist, including prohibited firearm possessors and locations where you can't have a firearm. Arizona law also governs concealed weapons, which are subject to restrictions and statutory requirements. 

As long as a person is above 21 years and is mentally competent, they can obtain a permit for a concealed weapon. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, commonly abbreviated as D.P.S. issues the firearm permits. Any mentally competent person can get a license to have a firearm as long as they are not prohibited possessors defined by Arizona law.

However, despite the lenient laws regarding a firearm's possession, Arizona has strict rules regarding a firearm's discharge. Many cities across Arizona have strict rules that prohibit the unlawful discharge of a gun.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the firearm's discharge, you may violate local, state laws, or both. It is an offense to discharge a firearm within a city's limit. You should note that the law also applies to rifles, pellet guns, and slots shots. A discharge that revolves around a rifle, pellet gun, or slots shots is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. A class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious of misdemeanor offenses in Arizona.

An unlawful discharge of a firearm may attract charges under Arizona's law known as Shannon's law A.R.S. 13-3107. This law was named after a 14-year old girl, Shannon, who died after encountering a stray bullet in Phoenix, AZ. Shannon's law will apply if you discharge a firearm with criminal negligence. The law will also apply if you discharge a firearm within a city or a municipality's limits. A violation of Shannon's law is a class 6 felony, according to Arizona law.

Discharging a Firearm with Criminal Negligence

The Arizona law A.R.S. 13-105 (10) (d) defines criminal negligence as a state of mind in which you fail to recognize the magnitude of your actions' dangers under certain circumstances. The prosecutor should prove that the exposure to danger was so great that a reasonable person would have perceived it. In determining whether you discharged a firearm with criminal negligence, the court considers how a reasonable person would have acted under similar circumstances.

When

it is Lawful to Discharge a Firearm

It is a class 6 felony under Arizona law to discharge a firearm unlawfully. For you to be guilty of this offense, the prosecutor has to prove that you discharged a firearm without lawful authority or justification.

You may be guilty of an unlawful discharge of a firearm under A.R.S. Section 13-3107 unless:

  • You were authorized by the law to discharge the firearm
  • At the time you discharged the firearm, you were on a supervised shooting range
  • You discharged the firearm in an area recognized or set aside for hunting by the Arizona game or fish department
  • You discharged a firearm to eliminate or control the nuisance of an animal. It should be evident that you made a necessary and reasonable use of a gun to defend yourself or another person from an animal attacking you or another person.
  • You discharged the firearm more than a hundred miles from an occupied structure
  • Shoot blanks – you cannot face charges for a firearm's unlawful discharge if you discharge a gun that has a special cartridge without pellets or bullets.
  • You are an animal control officer, and you were engaging in your official duties
  • You discharged a firearm in self-defense
  • You are not guilty of discharging a firearm unlawfully if it is evident that you were engaging in practice or target shooting. A qualified person, employee, or instructor from the National Rifle Association, abbreviated as N.R.A., should oversee the shooting. An instructor appointed by a school, an official club, or an armed forces organization can also supervise the shooting
  • If the shooting took place within an enclosed shooting area and an adult-supervised shooting, you might not face charges for the unlawful discharge of a firearm. It should be evident that you made the private property target shooting using pellet guns, B.B., or catapult-type weapons.

If the prosecutor accuses you of an unlawful discharge of a fiream, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney will examine your case and determine whether any of the circumstances mentioned above were present. A proper defense could lead to a drop in the criminal charges against you.

What the Prosecutor Should Prove

For a prosecutor to accuse you of unlawful discharge of a firearm, they have to prove several elements of the crime:

  • It should be evidence that you discharged a firearm or a B.B. device
  • You shot or discharged the firearm with negligence
  • The shooting or the discharge could have resulted in another person's injury or death

One of the crucial elements in an unlawful discharge of a firearm is acting intentionally. It should be evident that you acted on purpose or fired the gun intentionally. If you prove that your actions were not intentional and that you pulled the trigger accidentally, you may not face charges for the offense.

The prosecutor cannot accuse you of discharging a firearm unlawfully if you genuinely believed that the gun was unloaded. This is because, if you thought that the firearm was unloaded, you could have had the intent to fire it. You can point out that you were playing with a gun, thinking it was unloaded when it suddenly went off.

The law defines a firearm as any device that can serve as a weapon. The crime of a negligent discharge of a gun can also apply to B.B. devices. However, the charges for discharging B.B. devices are often lower than the charges for discharging a firearm.  A BB device refers to any device or instrument that expels a projectile like a pellet or B.B. through a force of gas pressure, air pressure, or spring action. 

You also need to have acted negligently to face charges for unlawful discharge of a firearm. You are guilty of acting in a negligent manner if you act differently from the way a reasonable person would have acted in a similar situation.  It means that you were indifferent regarding the consequences of your actions and your actions amounted to a disregard for human life.  Acting in a negligent manner means that your actions were more than ordinary carelessness, mistake, or error in judgment. 

You will only face charges for the unlawful discharge of a firearm if your actions could have led to the injury or death of another person.  This is why it is allowable to shoot within a restricted area and designated hunting areas where injuries are unlikely to occur.  However, if you shoot close to a dwelling structure or within certain limits in a municipality, you will be guilty of the unlawful discharge of a firearm. You will face negligent discharge charges in Arizona, even if you fire a gun into the air or if you fire warning shots. 

Punishment for the Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm

In Arizona, the unlawful discharge of a firearm is a Class 6 felony. You could face felony charges if you discharge a gun unlawfully for a violent act or theft. You could still face felony charges if you played around with a firearm, and it accidentally goes off. The state takes a discharge of firearms seriously due to the tragedies that can result from the crime.

According to Arizona law, Section 13-3107 (A), discharging a firearm with criminal negligence within a municipality's limits is a Class 6 felony. The punishment for the offense will vary depending on the facts of your case. If mitigating factors are present, the case is punishable with several months' imprisonment, usually less than six months. If aggravating factors are present, the case may be punishable with imprisonment of up to 2 years. 

The court may lower a non-dangerous Class 6 felony charge to Class 1 Misdemeanor charges based on the court's discretion. If a Class 6 felony is a dangerous first-time offense, you could be subject to a dangerous offender sentencing as outlined by A.R.S. 13-704.  The crime may expose you to a minimum jail time of 1.5 years and a maximum jail time of 3 years.

When the court is considering whether to charge you with a dangerous offense, it considers the involvement of a dangerous weapon or a gun to execute a crime.  You could be guilty of a dangerous offense if you intentionally threaten, discharge, and seriously injure another person with a deadly weapon or a firearm. 

The prosecution or the police do not witness the majority of unlawful discharges of firearms cases in Phoenix. In most cases, they rely on the defendant's confession or statement to establish who fired a firearm. A competent attorney will investigate your case and identify lapses in the prosecution's evidence.

What To Do After an Accusation of Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm

It is common for the police to arrest the wrong people and charge them with unlawful discharge of firearms. The police may arrest you if they believe that they have probable cause even if they are not sure you discharged the gun. In this case, you may feel the urge to express your innocence and deny the charges at the time of the arrest. However, opposing the police and resisting an arrest will do more harm than good. 

If you attempt to resist an arrest and the police feel threatened by your actions, they may charge you with additional offenses. Additional offenses may include failure to comply with a lawful police officer's order and disorderly conduct.  Resisting an arrest may result in tragic consequences like severe injuries and fatalities. The law allows the policy to use the necessary force, and at times deadly force if they feel physically threatened.

The best way to deal with an arrest is to cooperate with the police even if you are innocent. You should cooperate with the detention procedures and answer all the necessary identification questions. You should remember that you have a right to remain silent and refrain from answering questions unrelated to the incident.

It is advisable to refrain from issuing information before your attorney arrives. The questions posed by the police may appear innocent but might end up implicating you with charges for a crime that you did not commit. The police could use any information you utter against you.  Immediately after an arrest, you should contact your criminal defense attorney.

Legal Defenses for Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm Charges

After an accusation of unlawful discharge of a firearm, the defenses you use will depend on the facts surrounding the alleged case or incident. Your attorney can file early motions to challenge the evidence, especially if constitutional violations are present.

After an accusation of a firearm's illegal discharge, you should do your best to find a criminal defense attorney with the right credentials and experience. The level of experience of the defense attorney you choose will determine your amount of compensation. Some of the common defenses for unlawful discharge of a firearm offense in Arizona are:

You Acted in Self-Defense

You are not guilty of discharging a firearm unlawfully if you were acting in self-defense. You can also fight the charges by pointing out that you discharged the firearm while defending another person. For this defense to apply, it should be evident that you believed that you or another person was in danger of being touched unlawfully.

With the help of your attorney, you should prove that you discharged the firearm to defend yourself or another person against the imminent danger. You also have to prove that you did not use more force than was necessary under the circumstances.

For instance, you could be walking in your neighborhood when you notice two dogs approaching, ready to attack you. You take out your pistol and shoot in the air to scare the dogs. If the prosecutor accuses you of the unlawful discharge of a firearm, you can point out that you discharged the gun in self-defense. You can state that if the dogs had not approached you ready to attack you, you would not have discharged the pistol.

You Did Not Know that the Gun was Loaded

You can only face charges for unlawful discharge of a firearm if you act intentionally. You need to have known that the gun was loaded for you to fire it deliberately. The prosecutor may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew that the gun was loaded. If you manage to convince the court that you were not aware that the gun was loaded, the court may reduce or dismiss your charges.

Maybe the gun belonged to your relative or friend, and you did not know that it was loaded. You could also have stored a gun for so long that you forgot it was loaded. You can embrace that you did not know that the gun had bullets and use it to your advantage. You can also state that you discharged the firearm by accident.

There Was No Actual Danger of Injury or Death

You are only guilty of a firearm's unlawful discharge if it is evident that someone could have suffered injuries or died due to your actions. Therefore, the court will consider the place and the time when you discharged the firearm. The court may also consider how close you were to people's dwelling and the people who were close to you. You state that you discharged the gun in a place where you did not pose a danger of another person's injury or death. For instance, you could have discharged the firearm in an enclosed private property or a hunting ground. If you discharged a firearm yet, you were more than 100 miles from an inhabited structure. You can state that you didn't pose a danger or injury or death to another person.

You Had Legal Authority to Discharge the Gun

You can also fight the unlawful discharge of firearm charges by pointing out that you had the legal authority to discharge the firearm. For instance, you can state that at the time when you discharged the firearm, you were within a supervised shooting range. You might also be an animal control officer who discharged the gun in performing your duties. You can also point out that you are a peace officer, and you acted within the scope of your authority. If it is evident that you were in the course of performing your duties, you can't face charges for the unlawful discharge of a firearm.  

Find a Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you or another person is facing charges for unlawful discharge of a firearm, the Phoenix Criminal Attorney can assist. We will evaluate your case and help you develop a strong defense to fight the charges. Contact us at 602-551-8092 and speak to one of our attorneys.

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