Firearm Purchase and Criminal Record Leads to Unsworn Falsification Charge

Client worked a used car dealership, which required him to be in possession of relatively large sums of cash.  He decided to try and purchase a firearm for protection.  He went to a local gun shop in Centre County and completed the required application.  Regrettably, he had difficulty answering the prior criminal record portion of the application.

Prior Criminal Record and Buying a Gun

Gun purchase applications contain a question that asks if the applicant has been convicted "of a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation."  Many people complete this question incorrectly and thereby are charged with Unsworn Falsification to Law Enforcement and There are a few problems with this question.  First, some people do not understand that the word "convicted" generally includes a conviction after a trial, a guilty plea, or a plea of nolo contendre or no contest.  Second, the question asks about the sentence that a judge could have imposed and not the sentence that was actually imposed.  Many people only remember the sentence that was imposed and have no idea of the length of sentence that a judge could have imposed.  A third The instructions for this question then attempt to clarify that a crime that was punishable by imprisonment for more than one year does not include a state misdemeanor that was punishable by imprisonment of two years or less. Client did have a criminal record, having previously pled guilty in three prior cases, but the cases were resolved well over five years prior, and the oldest case was approximately ten years ago. Client also was never sentenced to a period of supervision by the probation and parole department for more than two years, so he believed that he could answer this question "no."

While Client was not sentenced to more than two years of supervision, the judge could have imposed a sentence of more than two years. The question posed inquired about the length of sentence that the judge could have imposed, meaning the maximum sentence permitted by law, not the actual maximum sentence that was imposed by the judge. Client should have answered the question with a "yes." Client was told that he was not approved to purchase a gun, but Client was not told why he had not been approved. The gun shop owner told Client that in order to find out the reason for the denial, Client would be required to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Police. Client filed the appropriate appeal paperwork, and the State Police then advised Client that he was prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm because of his prior record.

The State Police then charged with Client with a felony offense of Materially False Written Statement and a misdemeanor charge of Unsworn Falsification to Authorities. Both charges basically alleged that Client had intentionally lied on the gun purchase application. Client maintained that he did not knowingly provide false information because he was not aware of the maximum sentence that could have been imposed by law. He was only aware of the maximum sentence that the judge had actually imposed. The case proceeded to a jury trial in Centre County, and Client was found NOT GUILTY of all charges.