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Fireworks combine our love of bright lights and loud noises with our equal affection for fire. But as many Americans learn first-hand around the Fourth of July, you can be arrested in many states for simply possessing fireworks.
Although enforcement of fireworks laws varies from county to county and state to state, possessing or setting off illegal fireworks can lead to your arrest. It may simply depend on the type or amount of fireworks whether you end up with a citation or in handcuffs.
So before you get on the road with a rocket in your pocket, remember these legal principles about fireworks and your risk of arrest:
Fireworks Include Just About Anything With Gunpowder
Urban wisdom tells us that items like "Party Poppers" or "snappers" aren't actually fireworks, while Roman Candles or M-80s are. But in many states, anything with gunpowder -- or other chemical that a pyrotechnic effect -- is considered a firework. That doesn't necessarily mean that tamer fireworks like sparklers are illegal in most states, it just means that they are subject to regulation.
For example, California allows the sale of "Party Poppers" and "Snap Caps" year-round, but only because the State Fire Marshal has approved them. So keep in mind that if your state law or local law entirely prohibits fireworks, that ban probably includes anything remotely fun.
Bigger the Boom, Greater Risk of Arrest
Most offenses relating to possessing and setting off fireworks will be either infractions or misdemeanors. Infractions, also called petty offenses, typically do not involve any jail time. Because they are essentially civil penalties, like a traffic ticket, you will likely just receive a citation.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that even when offenses only involve a fine, an officer may perform an arrest if he or she has probable cause that a crime has been committed. Practically though, officers are more likely to arrest you for a misdemeanor offense which entails jail time.
A fireworks offense is more likely to be a misdemeanor if you:
For example, in Texas, you may be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for any firework use which results in $200 or more in property damage or any bodily injury.
Most state fire marshal's websites will have "cheat sheets" for fireworks offenses, which may be the quickest way to avoid arrest in your neck of the woods.
But if you do happen to get arrested for fireworks this Fourth of July, don't panic: An experienced criminal defense lawyer is just a click away.