Last year, more than 5600 people were placed on deferred adjudication probation in Tarrant County. More than half were charged with either felony drug possession or assault. Almost every day, we see folks contemplating signing up for this type of probation. And more times than not, they have one burning question: “Can I still have a gun?”
The answer isn’t simple or clear-cut. Texas and federal law are contradictory in regard to this issue. In this article, we are going to discuss Texas deferred adjudication and gun rights to try to clear up confusion on the subject.
Deferred adjudication probation (DFAJ) is a form of probation that, if successfully completed, will not result in a conviction for purposes of state law. The defendant is required to plead guilty, however, the judge will “defer” (or postpone) a finding of guilt and place him or her on a period of supervision (probation) with specific conditions/rules to follow. If the defendant successfully completes his or her probation, there will be no finding of guilt, the case will be dismissed and there will not be a conviction on his or her record. However, the arrest will remain on the record.
A key takeaway about deferred adjudication is that it is not a conviction – for purposes of state law. That distinction is important when discussing deferred adjudication and gun rights in Texas.
Under Texas law, deferred adjudication is not a conviction and does not directly result in the loss of your right to possess a firearm – under state law. So, technically under state law, you can possess a gun while on DFAJ – unless the judge specifically ordered you not to possess a firearm. That’s an important caveat. Many judges prohibit possessing a firearm as a condition of a defendant’s probation. In other words, if the judge said you cannot possess a firearm while on deferred and it’s listed as a condition of your probation, then you absolutely cannot possess a firearm while on deferred.
Possessing a firearm while on deferred is not permitted under federal law even if you are on deferred for certain state offenses, which we will discuss next.
Federal law contradicts Texas law in some regards when it comes to possession of firearms. This is also a complicated answer, because in some aspects, whether something is a conviction or not depends on how the state addresses the issue and in others areas, any plea is considered a conviction even if it resulted in deferred adjudication.
Many people who are placed on deferred adjudication probation are granted pro-forma status, which means they don’t have to report in person to a probation officer. Oftentimes, the only condition of deferred pro forma is to avoid picking up new charges. However, even if you are on deferred pro forma for a family violence offense or a felony offense, you cannot possess a firearm under federal law.
If you received deferred adjudication for a family violence assault charge, you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. No exceptions. Additionally, if you are placed on deferred adjudication and there is a finding of family violence, it cannot be nondisclosed after the successful completion of probation. This means it will stay on your record forever. A prosecutor can also use it later on to enhance a family violence assault to a 3rd or even 2nd degree felony.
Ownership and possession are not the same thing. Possession means the gun is in your care custody control. Ownership just means you own the gun.
Again, state and federal law are contradictory. A person on DFAJ can possess a firearm and ammunition and go hunting while on deferred under Texas law, but to the extent outlined above it would be prohibited under federal law.
If you are a gun advocate charged with a crime, it’s important to understand the laws addressing Texas deferred adjudication and gun rights. Many people accept offers of DFAJ, only to find out after the fact that they are federally prohibited from possessing a firearm, which puts them at risk for a federal charge if they carry for self-protection or are avid hunters or sportsman. That’s why it’s important to retain an experienced attorney who understands the intricacies of state and federal gun law at the outset of your case and can properly advise you of your rights. Call 817-203-2220 for a consultation with a skilled lawyer who can help you navigate this process and find the right defense strategy for you.
Note: The law firm of Varghese Summersett does not handle restoration of gun rights. We represent individuals charged with or accused of a crime. We do not handle post-conviction gun right issues.