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What Are The Penalties For Reckless Discharge Of A Firearm In Michigan?

The Fourth of July holiday is often celebrated by barbeques, bottle rockets and fireworks across the United States. Unfortunately, it is also celebrated by gunfire as people with handguns shoot bullets into the air. Gunowners forget that the basic principles of gravity require all airborne objects to come down eventually. The bullets often land in trees, lawns or rooftops without incident but, occassionally, these falling projectiles will injure or kill another human being. In 2012, Michelle Packard attended a Fourth of July fireworks show in Lansing, Michigan. Just before the fireworks started, a bullet fell from the sky and ended her life when she was struck in the head. In most circumstances, including Ms. Packard's tragic death, the perpetrator is not caught. However, anyone identified by the police for recklessly discharging a firearm can expect to face significant civil and criminal consequences.

As a rule, most cities and townships in Michigan prohibit the discharge of firearms in their boundaries. For example, the City of Monroe's firearm ordinance states that "[n]o person shall fire any pistol or other firearm in any street, lane, alley or public place or any yard or lot, public or private." Ord. No. 707-4(A). Depending on the jurisdiction, the municipal attorney can charge you with a civil infraction or a misdemeanor resulting in a fine or possible jail. These local ordinances often require the police to confiscate the weapon as well.

However, if the careless discharge of the weapon results in injuries to persons or property, then it becomes a serious criminal matter handled by the county prosecutor.

RECKLESS DISCHARGE OF A FIREARM CAUSING INJURY OR DEATH

  1. First, that someone was injured or killed.
  2. Second, that the injury or death was caused by the discharge of a gun.
  3. Third, that the gun was discharged by the individual OR that at the time of the discharge the gun was under the immediate control of the defendant and that the defendant caused or allowed the gun to be discharged.
  4. Fourth, that the discharge was the result of the defendant's carelessness, recklessness or negligence.
  • The penalty for careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing injury or death is a misdemeanor conviction punishable as follows:
  1. Up to 2 years in the state prison; or
  2. Up to 1 year in county jail; or
  3. A fine up to $2,000.00.

RECKLESS DISCHARGE OF A FIREARM CAUSING PROPERTY DAMAGE

  1. First, that someone else's property was damaged or destroyed.
  2. Second, that the property damage or destruction was caused by the discharge of a gun.
  3. Third, that the gun was discharged by the individual OR that at the time of the discharge the gun was under the immediate control of the defendant and that the defendant caused or allowed the gun to be discharged.
  4. Fourth, that the discharge was the result of the defendant's carelessness, recklessness or negligence.
  • The penalty for careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing property damage is a misdemeanor conviction punishable as follows:
  1. If the property damage does not exceed $50.00, then a fine up to $100.00 or up to 90 days in jail, or both.
  2. If the property damage exceeds $50.00, then a fine up to $500.00 or up to 1 year in jail, or both.

RECKLESS DISCHARGE OF A FIREARM (NO INJURIES OR PROPERTY DAMAGE)

  • An individual is guilty of reckless, wanton use or negligent discharge of a firearm in Michigan, contrary to MCL 752.863a, if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she "recklessly or heedlessly or willfully or wantonly use, carry, handle or discharge any firearm without due caution and circumspection for the rights, safety or property of others." The penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by a fine up to $100.00 or up to 90 days in jail, or both.

DEFINITION OF NEGLIGENCE

Model Criminal Jury Instruction 11.21 provides the following definition of "negligence" to be read to the jury:

  • "The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of at least ordinary negligence in the shooting of this gun. Ordinary negligence is more than slight negligence and slight negligence is not a crime."
  • "Slight negligence means doing something that is not usually dangerous, something that only an extremely careful person would have thought could cause injury. In this case, if the defendant was only slightly negligent, then he or she must be not guilty."
  • "Ordinary negligence means not taking reasonable care under the circumstances as they were at the time. If someone does something that is usually dangerous, something that a sensible person would know could hurt someone, that is ordinary negligence. If the defendant did not do what a sensible person would have done under the circumstances, then he or she is guilty of ordinary negligence."
  • "The fact that an accident occurred or that someone was injured does not, by itself, mean that the defendant was negligent."

CIVIL PENALTIES FOR RECKLESS DISCHARGE OF A FIREARM

In addition to the criminal penalties, there are other civil penalties that an individual is subject to:

  • The court may suspend the hunting privileges of any person convicted of careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing injury or death (contrary to MCL 752.861), careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing property damage (contrary to MCL 752.862) or reckless, wanton use or negligent discharge of a firearm (contrary to MCL 752.863a) for a period not to exceed 3 years from the date of conviction. MCL 752.864.
  • A person who was convicted of careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing injury or death (contrary to MCL 752.861), careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing property damage (contrary to MCL 752.862) or reckless, wanton use or negligent discharge of a firearm (contrary to MCL 752.863a) within the last 8 years is not eligible to apply for a concealed pistol license. MCL 28.425b(7)(h).
  • If a person who already has a concealed pistol license is charged with careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing injury or death (contrary to MCL 752.861), careless, reckless or negligent use of a firearm causing property damage (contrary to MCL 752.862) or reckless, wanton use or negligent discharge of a firearm (contrary to MCL 752.863a), then the concealed pistol license is immediately suspended until the resolution of the charge. MCL 28.428(2).

Any charges related to firearms are very serious and require a skilled lawyer in your corner to protect your rights. It may be possible for an attorney to negotiate a reduction or dismissal of the charges if you have a minor criminal record. It may also be possible to obtain an acquittal in a jury trial if the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you actually discharged the weapon. If you or a loved one is charged with reckless discharge of a firearm or any other criminal offense, do not hesitate to contact the experience criminal defense attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today. We wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday!

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