Federal Firearms Offenses Often Coincide with Other Charges
Each state has its own complex laws regarding firearm possession. Federal law also regulates the possession, use, sale, and purchase of firearms across the United States. These laws are enforced by numerous agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Federal prosecutors regularly charge individuals with firearms offenses, including:
- Unlawful possession of a firearm
- Selling a firearm to a prohibited individual
- Falsifying gun purchase records
- Using or possessing a firearm in connection with a violent crime or drug trafficking operation
The last-mentioned offense can be particularly serious, as it will coincide with other federal charges that come with potentially severe penalties of their own. When a firearm is added to the mix, a conviction can mean a mandatory minimum sentence of five or more years in federal prison. The following are only some examples of federal offenses that often coincide with firearms offenses.
Federal authorities spend a significant amount of resources trying to take down drug trafficking operations in the U.S. A person can be charged with trafficking if prosecutors believe they did any of the following:
- Manufactured a prohibited narcotic
- Distributed or dispensed a prohibited narcotic
- Possessed with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a prohibited narcotic
Drug trafficking charges are triggered when a certain amount or more of narcotics are involved. For example, 500 grams of powder cocaine, five grams of crack cocaine, or 100 gram of heroin can lead to drug trafficking charges and more serious penalties than regular possession charges. When drug trafficking charges apply, the prosecutor will look to whether defendants involved possessed or used a firearm in the process of the offense.
The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law targets defendants involved in a criminal enterprise that engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, which can include 35 different offenses. Some offenses are drug dealing, murder, gambling, bribery, kidnapping, arson, or mail and wire fraud. Someone must be:
- Associated with a corrupt enterprise, and
- Accused of committing at least two racketeering crimes within ten years
Federal authorities use RICO laws to charge many individuals within an organization for a particular crime, often for conspiracy. These charges were initially used against mafia members but prosecutors now commonly issue RICO charges against street gangs, drug cartels, corrupt police agencies, or even groups of politicians. Because corrupt enterprises often carry firearms, these charges can easily be added to the already long list of offenses.
In one recent case reported by the Department of Justice (DOJ), federal prosecutors indicted four gang members for offenses related to a murder. Two people faced charges of racketeering and conspiracy, while the other two faced additional charges of murder, using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death. This case illustrates how prosecutors regularly add firearms offenses to other serious charges.
Federal kidnapping offenses involve any of the following:
- Kidnapping someone and transporting them in interstate or foreign commerce
- Kidnapping in U.S. territories, maritime, or aircraft jurisdictions
- Kidnapping an internationally protected person or foreign national
- Kidnapping a federal employee or official
- A parent kidnapping a child under age 16 internationally
In many cases, people accused of kidnapping use or possess a firearm when committing the offense, which can substantially enhance an already harsh sentence.
Other Crimes of Violence
Federal law has a catch-all offense called “crime of violence,” which can involve either of the following:
- An offense that involves the use or threat of using physical force against someone else or another’s property, or
- Any offense classified as a felony that inherently “involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing any offense.”
There are numerous offenses that include one of the above elements and can fall into this category, including crimes like murder. If a defendant is charged with any qualifying offenses, they may face enhanced sentences if they used or possessed a firearm.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
When a person is convicted of unlawfully using or possessing a firearm, the law often requires them to serve a minimum amount of time in federal prison. In addition, if a defendant is convicted of multiple counts, they will have to serve each mandatory minimum sentence for each count consecutively, which can result in excessively long terms of imprisonment. Some mandatory minimum examples are as follows:
- Possession of a firearm by a drug offender or convicted felon = 10 years
- Possession of a firearm after three convictions for drug trafficking or violent felonies = 15 years
- Use of a shotgun or an assault weapon in a violent crime = 10 years
- Use of an automatic weapon, destructive device, or silencer during a violent crime = 30 years
- Using a firearm for the robbery of two businesses or banks involved in interstate commerce = 25 years
- Using a firearm for the robbery of three businesses or banks involved in interstate commerce = 40 years
Note that all of the above mandatory minimum sentences are for the firearms offenses only, and will be in addition to any sentences for the violent crimes themselves. These are also only a few specific examples of mandatory minimums the court can impose for federal firearms offenses.
Because firearms allegations can substantially enhance a prison sentence, it is critical to have a highly experienced federal criminal defense lawyer handling your case. There are ways to defend against firearms charges and any coinciding charges to help minimize or avoid prison time whenever possible.
Find Out How an Experienced Philadelphia Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we know how serious every federal firearm case can be. We regularly protect the rights of defendants in federal criminal court and understand how to present effective defenses and work with federal prosecutors. If you’ve been accused of any type of federal crime, please don’t wait to call 215-712-1212 or contact us online to discuss your case.