Defaced firearms, which are ones where the serial number is removed or altered, are illegal in Colorado. Under CRS § 18-12-103, knowingly possessing a defaced firearm is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $1,000.
The language of CRS 18-12-103 states that:
A person commits a class 1 misdemeanor if he knowingly and unlawfully possesses a firearm, the manufacturer’s serial number of which, or other distinguishing number or identification mark, has been removed, defaced, altered, or destroyed, except by normal wear and tear.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is “possession of a defaced firearm” in Colorado?
- 2. What are the penalties for violating CRS 18-12-103?
- 3. How can I fight the charges?
- 4. Is this a deportable offense?
- 5. When can I get a record seal?
- 6. Related offenses
1. What is “possession of a defaced firearm” in Colorado?
CRS 18-12-103 makes it a crime to:
- knowingly possess a handgun or long gun, and
- the gun’s serial number (or other identification mark or distinguishing number) has been defaced, altered, destroyed, or removed.
Note that it does not matter whether the possession is “actual” (such as carrying the defaced gun) or “constructive” (such as keeping the gun in one’s closet or other place the defendant has control over).
Also note that possession of a defaced firearm is an entirely separate crime from physically defacing identification marks of a firearm (CRS 18-12-104). But they are both class 1 misdemeanors and carry the same penalties.1
2. What are the penalties for violating CRS 18-12-103?
Knowingly possessing a defaced firearm is usually a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado. The penalties are:
- Up to 364 days in jail and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines.2
However, knowingly possessing a defaced firearm becomes a class 5 felony if the defendant was convicted in the last five years of either:
- Possession of a defaced firearm;
- Unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon (CRS 18-12-105); or
- Prohibited use of weapons (CRS 18-12-106).
As a felony, penalties for possession of a defaced firearm can include:
- 1 to 3 years in Colorado State Prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
- $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.3
Note that any felony conviction strips the defendant of his/her gun rights.4
3. How can I fight the charges?
Five potential defenses to Colorado criminal charges of possessing a defaced firearm are:
- The defendant was never in possession of the gun;
- The defendant did not know the gun was there;
- The serial number was legible;
- If the serial number was illegible, it was from normal wear and tear; and/or
- The gun was found during an illegal search and seizure by peace officers.
Note that it is not a defense that the person possessed the gun for the purposes of self-defense.
4. Is this a deportable offense?
Any gun-related offense is potentially deportable.5 But it may be possible for an experienced attorney to negotiate with prosecutors for a dismissal or reduction to a non-deportable criminal offense. Learn about the criminal defense of immigrants.
5. When can I get a record seal?
Defendants convicted of knowingly possessing a defaced firearm can petition for a record seal three years after the case ends. And there is no wait time to pursue a record seal if the charge gets dismissed.6
6. Related offenses
6.1. Unlawful purchase of a firearm
Colorado law prohibits buying or obtaining a gun for someone else, and the person buying or obtaining a gun knows that the other person is not allowed to have guns. A class 4 felony, the unlawful purchase of firearms carries two to six years in prison and/or a fine of $2,000 to $500,000. The defendant will also have to forfeit the illegally obtained firearms.
Learn more about unlawful purchase of a firearm (CRS 18-12-111).
6.2. Illegal discharge of a firearm
Colorado law prohibits knowingly or recklessly shooting a firearm into a residence, building, occupied structure or vehicle.7 A class 5 felony, illegal discharge of a firearm carries one to three years in prison and/or $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.
Learn more about the illegal discharge of a firearm (CRS 18-12-107.5).
6.3. Possession of a weapon by a previous offender
Convicted felons who possess a gun face class 6 felony penalties of:
- 1 to 1 ½ years in prison (with 1-year mandatory parole), and/or
- A fine of $1,000 to $100,000.
However, this offense becomes a class 5 felony if:
- The gun is classified as a dangerous weapon under CRS 18-12-102(1), or
- The defendant was previously convicted of burglary, arson, or any felony involving the use of force or the use of a deadly weapon, and this previous case ended within the last 10 years.
Learn more about possession of a weapon by a previous offender (CRS 18-12-108).