Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon (“UCW”) in Texas
Williamson and Travis county prosecutors, police and judges all take UCW cases very seriously. A UCW charge means at least going to jail, and likely losing the gun as well. The Texas Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon statute, which is often shortened to “UCW”, says that it illegal to carry a “handgun or club” on or about the person's body. In other words, it is generally illegal to walk around with a handgun or a club.
However, Texas is a state where many people feel the need to carry handguns in certain circumstances for their own protection, and the law recognizes their right to do that. Texas has lots of wide open spaces where a firearm may be useful for personal protection: from long desolate stretches of highway and isolated country roads, to farms, ranches and hunting leases. Texas also has significant urban centers in large and small towns that are more unsafe than the great outdoors, and where a law abiding citizen would be well advised to plan ahead and protect himself and his family.
Generally speaking under the law, it is not against the law to carry a handgun or club at property you own or control, including motor vehicles and watercraft. Also, people who have licenses to carry firearms as well as law enforcement and court officers can legally carry firearms in places other than their own "premises" under certain circumstances.
UCW ATTORNEY FAQs
- Are knives still included in UCW law?
- What weapons are unlawful to carry in Texas?
- Are some people exempt from Texas UCW law?
- Does the UCW law affect my CHL or LTC?
- What if the police believe I'm a member of a “criminal street gang“?
- How will Russ defend against a UCW charge?
- What are the possible punishments for a UCW case?
The UCW law used to prohibit the carrying of all "illegal knives" but the law was changed in a number of ways in 2017. Now the statute only restricts the carrying of “Location-restricted knives” by under-18's. Location restricted knives are knives over 5.5 inches long. Unlike the rest of the statute, the offense level for a location restricted knife offense is just a Class C misdemeanor.
UCW means Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon, and the law says it is generally illegal to carry either on your person or in your vehicle or boat a “handgun, illegal knife, or club” that is in “plain view” if you are not on your own "premises" or property under your control.
Here is the specific law regarding UCW, which is contained in Texas Penal Code Section 46.02:
- A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carries
- on or about his or her person
- a handgun
- in a motor vehicle or watercraft that is owned by the person or under the person's control at any time [if the person is:]
- engaged in criminal activity, other than a Class C misdemeanor that is a violation of a law or ordinance regulating traffic or boating
- prohibited by law from possessing a firearm; or
- a member of a criminal street gang, as defined by Penal Code Section 71.01.
Note that the prohibition on carrying clubs still applies in vehicles, so leave your sawed-off baseball bat at home!
Texas law exempts many people from the applicability of the UCW law in various ways. Some of the following categories of people have been exempted for certain actions:
- Law enforcement
- court officials,
- certain military members,
- people who are traveling,
- hunters and fishermen,
- security officers,
- handgun license holders,
- alcoholic beverage permit holders
- security guards at certain schools can carry a nightstick or similar club
- animal control officers in certain circumstances, and
- various types of historical reenactments
Concealed Handgun License holders are permitted to carry concealed handguns, and under the new open carry law persons with a "License to Carry" (LTC) can carry firearms openly in a shoulder or belt holster. If you are a CHL or LTC license holder and you are charged with UCW, Russ may be able to get your UCW case dismissed.
Penal Code Section 46.035 says license holders cannot "intentionally display" the handgun in plain view of another person:
- In a public place unless the gun is in a holster,
- At an institution of higher learning it it is visible at all, even in a holster.
And even with a license, certain places are off limits for handguns:
- At an institution of higher learning where carrying handguns is prohibited,
- On licensed premises that derive more than 50 percent of their income from alcohol sales,
- At a prison or jail,
- At a church,
- At an amusement park,
- At certain government meetings, or
- While intoxicated.
A person's handgun license can be suspended for convictions of various misdemeanor and felony offenses.
Penal code section 71.01 defines what the law means when it refers to a “criminal street gang.”
"Criminal street gang" means three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.
It is illegal for a member of a criminal street gang to carry a firearm in certain circumstances, and law enforcement officers will enforce this provision if they see a person with a firearm who they believe is wearing gang colors, has gang tattoos, making gang hand signs, or if they have "documented" the individual as a gang member.
Generally speaking, there are several key areas where Russ can attack a UCW charge:
- Whether the person being charged “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” carried the weapon
- Whether the person was on his own premises
- Whether there was an underlying criminal offense
- Whether the underlying criminal offense was significant enough that the state should care.
If the state can't prove that the weapon was “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” carried they cannot proved you committed a UCW. One example of not knowing that you possessed the gun might be if your spouse put it in your bag without telling you, or if it was in a container that you didn't realize had been placed in your vehicle.
Alternatively, if the person was on his own premises or premises under his control, he cannot be convicted. Perhaps the person was on a deer lease he controlled, or on a remote portion of his property.
The "underlying criminal offense" area is probably most commonly seen in situations where a person was arrested in a vehicle for DWI, drug possession or some other offense. If the state cannot prove that other offense, then the person is not guilty of UCW either.
On a number of occasions, Russ has been able to convince the prosecutor that the "underlying criminal offense" is so minor that it did not justify charging the client with UCW. The most common example of this is the underlying offense of Driving While License Invalid. Many people drive around with suspended licenses, who did not even know their license was suspended, perhaps because of an old accident, a no-insurance ticket, or points on their license. Is it reasonable to force these people to accept a class "A" weapon conviction and forfeit their weapon just because they had some points on their license? No. This is exactly the kind of argument that resonates with prosecutors and that Russ has used to his client's benefit in several UCW cases.
There are many possible defense strategies to fight a UCW charge, and Russ will carefully examine the facts of your case to determine the best available defense for your specific situation.
There are several different types of UCW offenses with different punishment ranges:
- Unlawfully carrying a firearm or club is a Class A misdemeanor:
- Unless the state's attorneys committed on "premises licensed to sell alcoholic beverages" which makes it a third degree felony.
- UCW for a person under 18 possessing a knife more than 5.5 inches is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.
A person can also be sentenced to either deferred adjudication or regular probation for a UCW charge.