Since Cabela’s opened its store in Tilden Township, Berks County, it has become a virtual tourist attraction bringing people from all over the country to visit the store and check out its massive displays of merchandise, stuffed wildlife, and live fish. Unfortunately, what is meant to be an entertaining trip to an outdoors store has, for some visitors, turned into criminal charges when they attempt to purchase a gun at Cabela’s and are denied because of a past crime or episode involving a mental institution.
Many times, an individual applying does not even realize that they’ve incorrectly answered a question on a touch-screen and that by incorrectly answering that question, they are now subject to criminal charges. These charges usually come in the form of a Statement Under Penalty of Perjury under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904, the Pennsylvania Statute that criminalizes perjury. Many would-be gun-buyers are surprised to find out that, at the end of the application for a gun, there was a statement that says, “I submit this application and all of the statements made on it under penalty of perjury.” By tapping “yes” at the end of the application and submitting it, the applicant is agreeing that they are making a sworn statement and that they can be prosecuted if it turns out not to be correct.
So, what do you do when you’ve been charged with a Statement Under Penalty at Cabela’s? The Commonwealth is very serious about prosecuting these cases, no matter how innocent your state of mind when you applied—so how can you defend yourself against these charges?
Touchscreens are unreliable
The application that most people are asked to fill out at Cabela’s is a touchscreen. As a result, the answers that are entered by tapping on the screen can sometimes be distorted. Touchscreens are not always accurate, and they don’t always accurately reflect the answers that are put down. Sometimes, defendants are surprised to find out that they’re charged, believing that they put the correct answer to the very question they’re accused of lying about.
Proving that you tapped the proper answer on a touchscreen is difficult, but not impossible. For one thing, there is video of some touchscreen terminals, and for another, the burden of proof always rests with the prosecution to prove that you did indeed touch the incorrect answer.
Were you distracted?
Many people go to Cabela’s to purchase a gun and do so in the company of friends. They may be in the process of talking to their friends, discussing the gun they’re thinking about buying, or even looking forward to lunch up at the Cabela’s café. Doing any of these things can lead to a distracted applicant.
To prove their case, the prosecution will have to prove that you intentionally lied on the application. Demonstrating that you were distracted is a partial step toward showing that you did not have the malicious intent required by the statute. For someone to be convicted of this crime, § 4904 requires the statement be one which “he does not believe to be true” when he makes it. Proving distraction can be part of a defense to this charge.
Was the underlying offense that you did not disclose on the application valid?
Courts are not going to relitigate a past criminal conviction or psychological episode. However, in unusual situations, a past conviction that was expunged or a determination of incompetency after a psychological episode that was later reversed by a court or other adjudicative body should not be the basis of a conviction for statement under penalty.
If your conviction was expunged or otherwise reversed that’s an important point to mention when you meet with an attorney.
Your previous criminal background
Someone’s prior record score – that is, the charges for which they’ve been previously convicted – has an enormous impact on dealing with someone’s criminal case. If you’re prior record score is high, it might make it more difficult to achieve a favorable deal with a prosecutor and might force you to go forward to trial.
In other instances, a relatively light criminal background will frequently allow someone to achieve a favorable plea deal that makes trial unnecessary. An experienced attorney can help to advise you on what the outcome of your case might be with your particular situation.
Conclusion: You need an experienced attorney by your side to resolve your charges.
If you’ve been charged with statement under penalty at Cabela’s, it’s imperative that you reach out to a criminal defense attorney right away. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely help individuals charged with crimes resulting from their visit to Cabela’s. Give us a call today and set up a free consultation with us to discuss your options and what you can do to aggressively defend yourself against these charges.