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Penalties for Illegal Fireworks

Independence Day weekend is upon us, which means aspiring pyrotechnicians will be hunting for the most colorful weapons-grade explosives with which to amaze and deafen their neighbors and children come the Fourth of July. And let's be honest, not all the sources for those amateur rocket shows are -- how should we put it? -- legit.

So what happens if you get caught with illegal fireworks? Here's a look at the possible penalties:

The Prohibitions

State fireworks laws can vary depending on where you live and what is regulated. Some states, including Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, ban any private sale, possession, or use of fireworks entirely. Others set restrictions on the type of fireworks that can be purchased, by whom, and even when.

For example, some states allow only the use of "novelty" fireworks like small sparklers, and prohibit the sale and use of firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, M-80s, and the like. Michigan permits noise makers, flat paper caps, sparklers, "fountain" fireworks, and smoke devices.

Some states require purchasers and sellers of legal fireworks to be a certain age, like California, which requires sellers of fireworks to be at least 18 years old and buyers to be at least 16. And some states, like Texas limit the sale of fireworks to certain times of the year. You can buy fireworks in the Lone Star State June 24 through July 4, and from December 20 through January 1.

The Penalties

In New York, possessing, using, or exploding a fireworks device is a $250 violation, while selling fireworks in Florida is a first degree misdemeanor that can land you in jail for up to a year. And in California, violating the extensive California Fireworks Safety Act could get you hit with a $1,000 fine.

And those are just the standard statutory penalties. If your backyard fireworks display happens to cause property damage, start a wildfire, or, heaven forbid, get someone injured or killed, you could be looking at a lot more legal trouble. So before let loose with the roman candles or M-80s this weekend, you might want to ask a local criminal attorney whether it's legal.

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