FEDERAL: FIREARM AND GUN CHARGES

A common count that accompanies drug conspiracy and violent criminal charges in Federal Court is an indictment alleging that a firearm was involved “during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime” under 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Drug conspiracies and crimes of violence are fairly common Federal charges; they are typically investigated by local police that work with Federal Agents. Whether you are alleged to have carried a weapon while transporting drugs, kept a weapon as protection for a “stash” house, used a weapon to deter or participate in a robbery of drugs, or engaged in a shooting, there is likely an additional charge for that firearm (or multiple charges) – carrying very serious consequences. 


Words really matter in all indictments – especially these Federal indictments. Whether someone is facing mandatory minimum time, and how much, will depend fully on whether the factual circumstances support- and the indictment alleges- that a firearm was:

 

  1. during and in relation to the crime, carried or possessed,

  2. in furtherance of the crime, possessed, 

  3. brandished; or, 

  4. discharged, in furtherance of the crime of violence or drug trafficking. 

The punishment from this charge is “stacked,” or consecutive, to any punishment for other crimes charged. The mandatory minimum penalties are: 

 

  •  If one carries or possesses a firearm – not less than 5 Years;

  •  If one brandishes a firearm – not less than 10 Years; 

  •  If one discharges a firearm – not less than 15 Years.

Minimum sentences are littered throughout the 18 U.S.C. 924 code section. Try on a 30-year mandatory minimum for the use of a “silencer” or “suppressor” with a firearm. Additional convictions (“second or subsequent”) under the same code section can result in a 25-year or Life sentence (two offenses in the same trial can trigger these ‘second or subsequent’ enhancements).


A “firearm” for purposes of Section 924(c) includes not only guns, but explosives and destructive devices as well (this includes rockets, grenades, and Molotov cocktails – but if you’re playing with that stuff then your name may be El Chapo). The definition also includes firearms that are not loaded or that are broken (United States v. Cooper, 714 F.3d 873, 881 (5th Cir. 2013)). It does not include toys or imitations. (United States v. Garrido, 596 F.3d 613, 617 (9th Cir. 2010) (“Possession of a toy or replica gun cannot sustain a conviction under § 924(c)”)).


The government must prove two big-picture elements: (1) that the firearm was used “during and in relation to a crime,” or “in furtherance of the crime.” Each of these describes how the firearm is alleged to have been used as a tool for the crime or to further its objective. Then, (2): that the weapon was carried, possessed, brandished, or discharged. These factors alone can lead to complicated litigation – with outcomes ranging from acquittal to significant mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment.


The United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) are an additional area that a Federal defendant will be hit on a 924(c) charge. Enhancements (increases) in the sentencing guidelines may be drastically affected if the defendant is considered an “Armed Career Criminal” under both 18 U.S.C. 924(e) and Guideline §4B1.4 (increasing the base level, or the criminal history category). 


The penalties are severe if convicted. An experienced defense attorney that practices in federal court of the Eastern District of Virginia will help you navigate the complex federal statutes to help mitigate or avoid unnecessarily lengthy prison sentences. You need an effective, competent, and focused advocate on your side; look no further than Brian M. Latuga, Esq. Call Brian directly for a free consultation; or, call his assistant, Heather, to make an appointment for an in-office meeting. Our contact information is here. We stand up strongly for yours and your loved one's rights and freedom. 

Call Brian M. Latuga, Esq. now for a free consultation, (757) 687-3657.

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