Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
The State of Ohio is home to 88 county courthouses, 12 District Courts of Appeals, one Supreme Court, two United States Federal District Courts, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In fact, there are hundreds of official courthouses in Ohio, including local municipal, mayoral, and special claims courts. From marriage ceremonies to homicide trials, Ohio’s federal and state court complexes serve a variety of municipal functions and are the epicenter of criminal justice.
Serious criminal offenders, parents locked in heated domestic disputes, and grieving friends and family traverse Ohio’s halls of justice each day. Emotions run high in courthouses, and desperation has led to the fatal conveyance and use of firearms in courtrooms. Weapons may be used to aid in an offender’s escape, injure a judge, threaten an accuser, or harm oneself after a verdict. In 2005, Columbus police captured a fugitive couple after they killed a law enforcement officer with a smuggled firearm and escaped a Tennessee Courthouse during sentencing. The emotional and criminal nature of most judicial proceedings has led Ohio to ban the possession, conveyance, and use of firearms in Ohio courthouses. The illegal conveyance of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance into a courthouse/court building (Ohio Code § 2923.123) is a felony, and even law enforcement officers are regulated.
Ohio Information Center for Charges of Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse (Ohio Code § 2923.123)
Some gun owners unintentionally enter a courthouse with their holstered weapons. Those summoned for jury duty, filing paperwork, or simply delivering office supplies may not think twice about carrying their weapons over the threshold. Unfortunately, courthouse security officers have no way of determining motive, and firearms owners may face criminal charges for illegally conveying or possessing a weapon in a courthouse. For general questions concerning Ohio’s courthouse weapons regulations, consult the Joslyn Law Firm’s Information Center for Charges of Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse. If you’ve been charged with illegally conveying a weapon into a courthouse under Ohio Code § 2923.123, schedule your free criminal defense consultation with the Joslyn Law Firm’s experienced Ohio firearms defense lawyers today by calling 614-444-1900 or contacting us online.
- The Restrictions Governing Conveyance, Possession, and Transportation of Deadly Weapons into an Ohio Courthouse or Court Building
- Necessary Proofs for Illegal Conveyance Charges Under Ohio Code § 2923.123
- Statutory Exceptions to Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
- Defenses to Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
- Direct and Collateral Penalties for Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
1. The Restrictions Governing Conveyance, Possession, and Transportation of Deadly Weapons into an Ohio Courthouse or Court Building
Ohio Code § 2923.123 states that no person shall knowingly (1) convey, (2) possess, and/or (3) control a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance in a courthouse or a building or structure in which a courtroom is located. Conviction requires prosecutors to prove both the actus reus – physical act – of conveying, possessing, or controlling a weapon into/in a courthouse and the mens rea – mental state – of conscious awareness. The possession, conveyance, and/or control must be of a “deadly weapon” or “dangerous ordnance” and occur within the boundaries of a courthouse or another building or structure in which a courtroom is located.
In Ohio, deadly weapons are defined as any instrument, device, or thing capable of inflicting death and either designed, adapted for, possessed, carried, or used as a weapon. The term “deadly weapons” includes:
- Firearms such as handguns and shotguns
- Unloaded firearms
- Inoperable firearms if they can be easily rendered operable
The term “dangerous ordnance” means:
- an automatic firearm
- a sawed-off firearm
- a ballistic knife
- explosive devices
- incendiary devices
- highly explosive chemicals such as nitroglycerin, TNT, or dynamite
- military-grade weapons such as rocket launchers, grenades, bombs, and the ammunition for the same
- mufflers or suppressors
- any combination of parts to assemble a deadly ordnance
By prohibiting the conveyance of all deadly weapons and dangerous ordnances, the statute is prohibiting any and every type of firearm into an Ohio court building.
Official courthouses are established by a combination of federal, state, and/or local law. Ohio law dictates that each county must establish “a court to be known as the county court,” and further establishes certain municipal courts. Each individual county, however, designates where the operative local courthouse is located. Local ordinances also set rules governing when and where court proceedings can take place outside of a county’s designated courthouse. There must be some legal notice to residents that a courtroom exists, either permanently or temporarily, in a building that hasn’t been designated as a court of record by statute or ordinance.
2. Necessary Proofs for Illegal Conveyance Charges Under Ohio Code § 2923.123
Provided the firearm was a “deadly weapon” or “deadly ordnance,” and the building was a courthouse, prosecutors must prove the necessary actus reus and mens rea beyond a reasonable doubt.
Actus Reus Necessary Under Ohio Code § 2923.123
The title of the statute might be “conveyance of deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance into courthouse,” but the term “convey” is confusing. The verb “to convey” has two generally accepted meanings: (1) to transport or carry from one place to another or (2) to transfer or deliver something to someone else. Further, the term “convey” used to mean to steal or carry something away secretly, and statutes derived from traditional English law may use the term “convey” in such a manner.
In light of the statute’s title, the term “convey” likely criminalizes bringing a deadly weapon into a courthouse. However, the Rule of Lenity applicable to the interpretation of criminal statutes in Ohio dictates that when the terms of a criminal statute have two or more meanings, the statute should be interpreted in favor of the defendant. An experienced Ohio gun rights defense attorney will argue for the most favorable interpretation of the statute’s terms.
The term “possess” means to have and hold, and it includes taking control of another’s firearm or having the firearm ready at hand. This can mean in a holster, purse, briefcase, or backpack. If the firearm is in some way connected to your physical person, you possess that firearm under Ohio Code § 2923.123.
For a weapon to be “under your control,” you must control its possessor and/or access to the firearm. A weapon locked in your desk is “under your control.” The same is true if the weapon is in a backpack placed against the nearest wall. The firearm is still within and under your domain of control. Prosecutors may charge non-possessors or conveyors under Ohio Code § 2923.123 by arguing that the accused controlled the individual who actually possessed the weapon in the courthouse. An example would be using an elderly parent or child to smuggle a firearm into the courthouse. It can be argued that the child, and in turn, the firearm, were under your control when they entered the courthouse.
Mens Rea Necessary Under Ohio Code § 2923.123 – Willful Blindness and Forgetfulness Not a Defense
Prosecutors must show that the conveyance, possession, or control of the weapon into a courthouse was “knowing.” You cannot be convicted of illegally conveying a deadly weapon into a courthouse if the conveyance was unknowing or accidental and the mistake was reasonable. If a handgun is slipped into an attorney’s briefcase without his knowledge, he is not guilty of illegally conveying a deadly weapon into a courthouse. More commonly, those with no reason to know they’d entered a building with a courtroom do not knowingly possess the weapon in a courthouse.
The exception to this standard is “willful blindness” or unreasonableness. If the offender “should have known” he was conveying a weapon and/or entering a courthouse, he is still guilty of conveying a weapon into a courthouse. “Forgetting” you had a handgun holstered before entering a courthouse isn’t sufficient to defeat § 2923.123 charges because you holstered the weapon and are charged constructive knowledge of its location. The same is true if the courthouse is clearly marked, and a reasonable person should have known they were entering a court building.
3. Statutory Exceptions to Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
Ohio Code § 2923.123 exempts certain persons from its provisions provided the local rules of the court, rules of the Ohio Supreme Court, or a superseding statute don’t impose more stringent restrictions. In the absence of additional local rules, this section does not apply to the following:
- A judge or magistrate of an Ohio court of record
- An Ohio peace officer such as a sheriff, marshal, university police officer, or transportation enforcement officer
- An Ohio law enforcement officer, including any state or municipal police officer
- An out-of-state or federal law enforcement officer or peace officer provided he or she is authorized to carry the weapon for job-related purposes and is operating within the scope of his or her duties at the time, i.e., firearm permitted if the officer is testifying about an investigation but not if he’s summoned for jury duty
- A person employed in Ohio provided he or she is authorized to carry the weapon for job-related purposes and is operating within the scope of his or her duties at the time
- A person who is bringing, using, or conveying the weapon into the courthouse to act as evidence in a case, i.e., a defense attorney or expert witness
- An Ohio bailiff or deputy bailiff during the scope of his/her official duties
- A prosecuting attorney and/or her secret service officer as appointed by the county provided the weapon is necessary during the course of her official duties
- The holder of a valid CHL (or active duty military member with paperwork) who immediately turns a handgun over to a court security officer for safe storage provided the courthouse specifically offers a handgun-storage service (check this before going to court as courts are not required to offer these services)
Always review the local rules of the county, county ordinances, and any applicable local policies before taking a firearm into a courthouse. An experienced Columbus, Ohio firearms defense attorney can review these policies to ensure compliance.
4. Defenses to Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
Disproving one of the above elements should result in acquittal of Ohio illegal conveyance charges, but certain common law defenses are also applicable to most criminal charges. These include self-defense, necessity, and duress, but because § 2923.123 criminalizes bringing the weapon into the courthouse, the defenses must apply to that act. For example, a witness who smuggled a deadly weapon into the courthouse and thereafter used that weapon to protect himself cannot raise self-defense in opposition to § 2923.123 charges. He was not defending himself from imminent harm when he crossed the courthouse threshold, and the defense is not retroactive.
Possible defenses to illegal conveyance charges include:
- Mistake-of-Fact – A paralegal who believed the weapon was needed for evidence that day but was mistaken. If his belief was both reasonable and, if true, would have provided him authorization to possess the gun in the courthouse, he may be protected by this defense. Mistake of law is not a defense, i.e., mistakenly believing the prosecutor’s staff qualified as a “prosecutor” under the law.
- Necessity & Self-Defense – These defenses apply if the deadly weapon was brought into the courthouse and crossing the courthouse threshold prevented imminent death, serious bodily harm, or a greater wrong. For example, following an armed suspect into a courthouse to stop him or jumping through the courthouse doors to avoid a traffic accident. The harm must be “imminent.” These defenses are not applicable if you believed the weapon was necessary for defense later in the day.
- Duress – This defense is often raised when gang-related activity is present. The defendant’s gang may threaten a loved one attending a criminal trial if he doesn’t smuggle a weapon to the defendant. This defense is seldom applicable to firearms transportation, however, because aiding actions that could reasonably result in harm or death to another is not protected. Immediately turning the weapon over to law enforcement or court officials may protect the validity of a duress claim, but turning the weapon over to a defendant would not.
- Insanity – If the offender’s mental function prevented her from understanding she was in a courthouse, possessed a weapon, or that her actions were wrong or illegal. This is not the same as mental illness, as it requires true psychosis.
The availability of these defenses is dictated by the facts and circumstances of each case. Acquittal of Ohio firearms charges often turns on a single piece of evidence. An experienced Columbus criminal weapons defense attorney should review the firearms charges as soon as possible to maximize the defensive strategy.
5. Direct and Collateral Penalties for Illegally Conveying a Deadly Weapon into a Courthouse
Illegal conveyance of a deadly weapon or ordnance into an Ohio courthouse is a felony offense. The felony level depends on the offender’s criminal history and the circumstances of the offense. Unless otherwise stated, illegal conveyance is a felony in the fifth degree. Fifth degree-felonies are punishable by up to a year in prison and/or up to a $2,500 fine. If the accused has been previously convicted under § 2923.123, he will be guilty of a felony in the fourth degree. Fourth-degree felonies are punishable by up to 18 months in prison and/or a fine up to $5,000.
Judges have considerable discretion during sentencing and may also require offenders to:
- serve probation
- surrender their firearms (for violent felons or those adjudicated mentally ill/drug dependent)
- attend alcohol or drug rehabilitation
- pay restitution to any victims
- participate in community service
- pay the costs of prosecution
Those convicted of a felony-level offense may suffer additional social and/or legal consequences that aren’t addressed at the sentencing hearing, including:
- inability to own or use firearms (for violent felons)
- loss of a job and/or inability to obtain meaningful employment
- dishonorable discharge from the military
- loss of certain government benefits
- loss of child custody and visitation rights
Always retain an experienced and compassionate Ohio criminal defense attorney after being charged with illegally conveying a deadly weapon into a court building in violation of Ohio Code § 2923.123. This is always a felony, and the Joslyn Law Firm’s top-rated Columbus criminal firearms conveyance lawyers are available 24/7 for a free, no-obligation criminal defense consultation at 614-444-1900 or online.