Federal Weapons Crimes – 18 U.S. Code § 924(c)
Most weapons crimes are investigated by local law enforcement and prosecuted in a state court. However, some specific weapons crimes can result in federal weapons charges, meaning the U.S. Attorney's office will prosecute them in a federal court. Federal weapons charges typically carry severe penalties, often with mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Federal weapons crimes are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). They have almost limitless resources to investigate and pursue criminal charges against anyone allegedly violating federal weapons laws.
Weapon offenses violate federal statutes that regulate deadly weapons, such as firearms. They are defined as any weapon designed, or converted, to expel a projectile using an explosive. It also establishes a weapon by its frame, a firearm muffler, a silencer, or a destructive device.
Federal laws further regulate the purchase, sale, possession, manufacture, and distribution of firearms. They also prohibit the sale of firearms to specific groups of people, such as convicted felons. Federal law also bans certain firearms, such as semiautomatic assault weapons and machine guns. Common weapons charges prosecuted in federal court include illegal possession, firearms trafficking, and violent crimes.
Some federal statutes deal with gun charges related to drug cases and the mandatory minimum sentences that can be tacked on. For example, five different years can be tacked on the back of a federal criminal sentence if you use a gun during the movement of drugs in a federal case.
So, weapons charges in federal cases are severe, not just in drug cases but in other cases. The bottom line is when somebody owns, uses, or possesses a weapon during a federal crime, that makes them much more dangerous and likely to cause some harm to the public or anyone else involved with a federal criminal case.
So, when it comes to drugs, the feds will usually charge this 18 U.S. Code § 924(c) if the person has a gun or more than one gun, especially if they're moving drugs at the same time or if they possess drugs in their house and a business and they also have guns available. The key is having the gun available against someone related to those drugs. That makes a person much more dangerous in these federal drug cases.
What Are the Common Federal Weapons Offenses?
Various statutes under the United States Code govern federal weapons offenses. There is a wide range of federal laws that deal cover crimes involving firearms, such as the following:
- A convicted felon possessing a weapon;
- Using a weapon during a crime;
- Weapon possession of a fugitive, illegal alien, or drug addict
- Selling a weapon to a minor or weapon possession by a minor;
- Selling weapons without a valid license or permit;
- Possessing a weapon by somebody with an active restraining order;
- Selling any firearm or ammunition to a prohibited person;
- Possession or manufacture of an illegal firearm;
- Importing, manufacturing, or dealing firearms without a license;
- False statement on a record to make a gun purchase.
Possession of a Firearm Offenses
The most common weapon charge is possession of a firearm. Federal laws restrict who can own, possess, or sell a gun, and those not restricted must have their weapon registered. There is an absolute restriction to own or possess a gun if you:
- Were convicted of a crime punishable by being in prison for more than a year;
- Are a fugitive from justice;
- Are addicted to or illegally use any controlled substance;
- Have been ruled mentally defective by the court or have been committed to a mental institute;
- Are illegal aliens living in the U.S.;
- Renounced your U.S. citizenship (if you are a citizen);
- Are subject to a court restraining order involving your intimate partner, your partner's child, or children;
- Were convicted of domestic violence in any court of a misdemeanor.
Many illegal weapons possession charges result from unlawful searches and other violations of individuals' rights. Therefore, a weapons violation can become very complicated, and the type and severity of the charges one can face are connected to personal circumstances (i.e., where you were, whether the gun was loaded, whether it was concealed).
A weapons charge derives from possessing or owning a firearm and items such as a stiletto, ballistic knife, switchblade, double-edged bladed knife, slingshot, brass knuckles, etc.
How Will Prosecutors Deal with Weapons Charges?
This is a severe political issue. The assault rifle ban went into effect in 1994 and then lasted for ten years. However, that ban has since been lifted and no longer exists. The President of the United States is discussing a new ban on assault rifles and possibly other guns.
If you or a loved one is caught with a gun and you're being charged at the federal level, you want to get an attorney with experience dealing with the feds regarding gun charges. One area in which I see many gun charges filed relates to drugs, trafficking, and guns.
Suppose you get caught trafficking a certain amount of narcotics, depending on what kind of narcotics, and you're also using a gun to protect those narcotics; you'll not only be facing a 10-year mandatory minimum for the drug charge. In that case, you'll also meet an additional 5-year mandatory minimum related to having a gun with the drugs.
The feds are also prosecuting people at a record number for gun charges. Hence, it would be best if you found an attorney who can try to take you out of the matrix that puts you in a scenario where you're being swept up with other people doing bad things with guns that the feds aim to target and take out. If you fall into this matrix, you will be treated much more harshly than you would when gun laws were not so political.
So, what you need to do is get an attorney who has experience dealing with these cases. I've traveled all over the nation handling these cases – whether they be gun charges or related offenses. But, we must first sit down and decide what our plan of attack will be.
Will we fight the case, or will we try to work out a resolution usually determined by the strength of the prosecutor's evidence? If they've got a strong case against you, and you don't have any motions to knock it out, we will want to try to find a resolution and negotiate with them.
If, on the other hand, you're innocent or they have a weak case against you, we may take another approach, depending on available evidence and what the best strategy is moving forward. Once we have that dialed in, we will start looking at what we can do – whether with the investigation, motion work or gathering character letters to assemble a mitigation package. We're going to figure out the best angle to help you.
What Are the Penalties?
A weapon charge is more severe than most people think, especially with another federal crime. This will likely mean mandatory jail time or substantial time added to your sentence, even if the weapon is registered correctly.
Federal law officials insistently pursue weapon charges which may qualify as felony or serious misdemeanor offenses and can result in serious criminal penalties (hefty fines and prison time).
The legal penalties for a federal weapon charge depend on several factors, such as prior criminal history, the type of weapon in possession, whether the weapon was used during the commission of a crime, and whether a bodily injury was caused in connection with the charge.
A violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g), possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, carries a federal prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
A violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c), use or possession of a firearm in furtherance of a federal crime of violence, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and life without parole if death results from using a firearm. The federal sentencing guidelines lay out penalties for weapons crimes and depend on the type of firearm and prior convictions. 18 U.S. Code 1512 defines tampering with a witness, victim, or informant.
Best Defense Strategies for Federal Weapons Charges
For those charged with a weapon case in federal court, you want to get a great attorney to help you. This can be so concerning because in many cases under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), the prosecutors can charge a drug case, for example, where you possess the weapon, and add five years on the back of a sentence because there was a weapon involved.
So, whether there is a federal weapon charge, especially in today's society, you want to ensure that you've got a federal criminal defense attorney with much experience dealing with these types of offenses. So, I typically get you in the office to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.
For example, in that drug scenario where you're probably facing a 10-year mandatory minimum for the number of drugs involved plus the five-year gun enhancement, you're facing 15 years at a minimum, and you could get more.
That's why we get you in and see if the weapon had anything to do with the crime. In other words, just because you were found with a gun doesn't necessarily mean the feds can hit you with that 924(c) charge. They're going to have to show that there's a link between the weapon and the crime.
Link Between Guns and Drugs
In our drug scenario, there will be a link between the drugs you're caught with and the weapon you're caught with. So it can't be a situation where the drugs, for example, are found in a storage unit, and the gun is located at your home and in two separate locations.
That's not going to cover the 924(c) gun charge. So, there are specific facts that the prosecutor must prove to hit you with that 924(c) charge. But also, independent of that, you've got a situation where you're charged with a federal gun charge alone, without any drugs attached to it.
That can be a serious situation, especially today, where guns kill people everywhere. So the feds have decided that that is one of the areas they are going to prosecute.
People are moving guns in and out of the United States. Suppose you've got illegal weapons that are not even allowed to be possessed, and you're carrying guns like ghost guns without serial numbers and other gun-related offenses. In that case, you'll want to get the best criminal defense attorney possible. I've been doing this now for 30 years.
If you're using a weapon in conjunction with committing a federal crime, this is where the feds will get involved as far as adding an extra charge or enhancement against you related to your federal offense. What I do is I get the client in. We talk about the circumstances involved in the gun or the weapon. We talk about how Section 924(c) works. We talk about the following:
- What were the circumstances of this gun being found;
- Whether the gun was registered;
- Whether the gun was part of any potential crime related to your case; and
- What we can do to try and keep the harsh penalties related to the gun out of your case.
We will resolve your matter as quickly as possible and favorably to you if you're charged with possessing or using a gun related to a federal charge. However, suppose you or a loved one is dealing with a weapons violation. In that case, it is crucial and imperative that you choose an experienced federal criminal defense attorney.
So, if you need the best, you're charged with a federal gun or weapon allegation or charge by itself, pick up the phone now. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.