Although possessing an instrument of a crime is usually charged as a misdemeanor, it is one of the more serious lower level offenses in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, there are defenses available to defendants, so if you have been charged with this crime, it is critical to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case.
Pennsylvania law defines an instrument of a crime as:
- Any item that was specially made or adapted for criminal use; or
- Any item used for a criminal purpose and possessed by someone under circumstances that are not appropriate for its potentially lawful uses.
According to state law, there are three ways to violate the statute prohibiting the possession of an instrument of a crime. The first is to possess any instrument of a crime with the intent to use it in a criminal matter, which is considered a first degree misdemeanor. The second way to violate this law is to possess and conceal a firearm or other weapon on one’s person with the intent to use it criminally. This offense is also charged as a first degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. A weapon is defined broadly as:
Anything capable of being used for a lethal purpose; and possessed in circumstances that are not lawful.
This includes firearms that are:
- Not loaded; or
- Lack a clip or other component that will make it immediately operable.
The definition also encompasses components that when assembled could be used as a weapon. Although this definition is broad enough to cover a wide variety of items not usually considered weapons, Pennsylvania appellate courts have indicated that the definition does have certain limitations. For instance, merely using an item to facilitate a crime does not turn that object into an instrument of a crime or a weapon. Instead, the District Attorney must also show that the item was used during the crime itself to obtain a conviction.
Possessing Body Armor
Finally, a person can be charged with a third degree felony if he or she uses, wears, or possesses body armor while:
- Committing a felony; or
- Attempting to commit a felony.
Body armor includes any protective covering that is made of:
- Polyaramid fiber;
- Glass fiber cloth that has been treated with resin; or
- A combination of materials that are designed to deflect or prevent penetration by ammunition, a knife, or another weapon.
Third degree felonies carry much harsher penalties, including a prison term of up to seven years. Fortunately, those who are accused of possessing an instrument of a crime can raise a variety of defenses, including that:
- The item in question was recovered as a result of an illegal search;
- The prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove that the item was an instrument of a crime and also involved in the crime itself; and
- The testimony of witnesses is not credible.
Call Today to Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you were recently arrested for possessing an instrument of a crime, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin by calling (215) 977-4627, by sending us a brief message, or by initiating a live chat with a member of our dedicated legal team.