Firearm Possession During a Drug Crime or Crime of Violence
Firearm Possession During a Drug Crime or Crime of Violence
Possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking or violent crime is a serious offense frequently seen in federal courts. While the Second Amendment protects citizens’ right to bear arms, Congress has established severe penalties for those who use a gun while committing such offenses.
Under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c), it is a federal crime to possess, brandish, or discharge a firearm during a drug trafficking or violent crime. These charges carry strict mandatory minimum penalties, potentially resulting in a lifetime imprisonment sentence.
Consequently, federal law enables determined prosecutors to elevate ordinary state drug cases to federal jurisdiction, where the stakes are significantly higher. Federal prosecutors possess more extensive resources, including larger budgets and access to superior investigators like the FBI. As a result, you must be prepared to defend your life with an attorney experienced in battling these formidable opponents in court.
If you are facing charges for using a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking or violent crime, do not delay—contact Sosinsky Law immediately at (212) 285-2270. We specialize in defending against 924(c) charges and will fiercely protect your life from any prosecutors attempting to take it away.
Possession, Brandishing and Discharge of Firearms while Committing other crimes:
The Law on 18 USC 924(c)
Possessing a firearm without any prior felony convictions is generally not considered a federal crime. However, the situation changes when you use, brandish, or discharge a firearm in connection with certain other federal crimes. It’s like using a gun to commit another federal offense. These circumstances are governed by Section 924(c).
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, approximately 2,500 individuals are convicted of violating Section 924(c) annually. The average sentence for this violation is 138 months, highlighting the importance of understanding the law if you’re facing such charges.
Congress has expressed that possessing, brandishing, and using firearms in relation to specific drug trafficking crimes and crimes of violence should be treated as separate offenses with consecutive sentences. The precise language criminalizing these acts can be found in Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c)(1)(A). You can read the text for yourself below:
(A) Unless a greater minimum sentence is provided elsewhere in this subsection or by any other law, any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including those that impose enhanced punishment when committed with a deadly or dangerous weapon or device), and for which the person may be prosecuted in a U.S. court, uses or carries a firearm, or possesses a firearm in furtherance of such crime, shall, in addition to the punishment imposed for the crime of violence or drug trafficking crime:
- Be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;
- If the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and
- If the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years.
To secure a conviction for violating 924(c), the Government needs to establish certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt by proving the following:
- That you committed an underlying “drug-trafficking crime” or “crime of violence”
- That you either (a) used or carried a firearm or (b) possessed in furtherance a firearm
- During and in relation to the commission of the “drug-trafficking crime” or “crime of violence” from number one.
To secure a conviction for a 924(c) charge, each of these elements must be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Below, we will discuss these elements individually as they significantly impact the mandatory minimum sentences associated with such convictions. By working with an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer, you can rest assured knowing that you have the best possible defense for the charges against you.
Possessing a Firearm: Explaining the Details of “In Furtherance”
Title 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(1) establishes a criminal offense for knowingly possessing a firearm in connection with a drug-trafficking crime or violent offense. To establish the aspect of possession, the government must demonstrate that the defendant had knowledge of possessing a firearm and that the possession was carried out to advance the underlying criminal act.
The U.S. Courts of Appeals have developed model jury instructions that offer invaluable real-world explanations of legal terminology. These model instructions serve as examples of the language a court would use to guide a jury in defining the legal terms relevant to determining your guilt or innocence during trial.
According to the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions, the government must prove that the defendant possessed a firearm that furthered, advanced, or facilitated the underlying crime, in order to establish the “in furtherance” element of Section 924(c). Several factors may be taken into account when assessing whether a firearm was possessed “in furtherance” of the predicate offense:
- The type of drug activity or crime of violence being conducted
- The accessibility of the gun
- The type of weapon
- Whether the weapon was stolen
- Whether the possession of the gun is lawful (i.e., not by a felon)
- Whether the gun is loaded
- The gun’s proximity to drugs or drug profits (the cash)
- The time and circumstances where the gun is found.
To determine whether a firearm was used in furtherance of an underlying predicate crime, eight factors are considered. This analysis, described in United States v. Yanez-Sosa, 513 F.3d 194, 203-04 (5th Cir. 2008), is commonly applied in drug trafficking cases and also applicable to crimes involving violence.
Types of Firearm Possession
Possession of a firearm in violation of 924(c) can be determined in one of two ways:
- Actual Possession: A person has physical possession of an item; in this case a firearm. For example, if a person has a firearm in their pocket or tucked into their pants they have actual possession of a firearm.
- Constructive Possession: Constructive Possession may exist when “a person, though lacking such physical custody, still has the power and intent to exercise control over the object.” Constructive possession is different from actual possession because the Government must prove to the jury that you had the power and intent to control the firearm. Henderson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1780, 1784 (2015).
As per the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions, constructive possession can be established when an individual “knowingly possesses the power and intention, at a specific moment, to exercise authority or control over an object, either directly or through another person…” Refer to Fifth Cir. Pattern Jury Instruction 1.33.
According to previous court rulings, constructive possession is established when an individual possesses both the power and intention to exert control over an object, either directly or through another person. In such cases, the government can establish the accused’s dominion or control over the firearm at the time of the 924(c) crime through the use of “affirmative links”.
“Affirmative links” refer to various elements that establish a connection between an individual and a specific location. These connections can be in the form of documents, items, or other tangible aspects. Examples of such “affirmative links” encompass a wide range of possibilities, such as:
- Bills in the name of the accused person;letters addressed to the accused person in the residence; photos or photo albums; or lease or appraisal district records tying a residence to a person.
Frequently, law enforcement employs the concept of constructive possession to implicate individuals in cases where a firearm is found in their residence, even if it is owned by someone else such as a family member or intimate partner.
“Using or Carrying” a Firearm
The second way an individual can commit a violation of 924(c)(1) is by “using or carrying” a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime or a crime of violence. This section delves into the elements that the Government must establish to prove the claim that you used or carried a gun in violation of 924(c).
To demonstrate that a defendant “used” a firearm in a manner that contravenes 924(c), the Government must establish that the firearm was “actively employed” during the commission of the underlying crime. “Active employment” encompasses various actions, such as brandishing, displaying, referring to, striking someone with, or firing the gun.
However, it is important to note that the Government must prove more than mere possession or availability of a gun during a drug crime or crime of violence to establish a “use” under 924(c). Merely having a firearm at the scene of a different crime is insufficient to establish a 924(c) violation, as held by the United States Supreme Court in Bailey v. United States, 116 S. Ct. 501, 506 (1995). Instead, the Government must present evidence demonstrating that the firearm was an operative factor in relation to the underlying crime (Id. at 505-06).
It is crucial to remember that the Government can also bring charges for “carrying” a firearm in connection with a drug-trafficking crime or crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c). The term “carry” implies some form of movement. For instance, court cases have established that “carrying” encompasses carrying a firearm in one’s pocket, as well as in the trunk or glove box of a car (United States v. Smith, 481 F.3d 259, 264 (5th Cir. 2007)).
To constitute a violation of 924(c), the firearm must be transported by a defendant or be within their reach during the underlying crime.
Brandishing a Firearm
Brandishing a firearm is defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c)(4) as follows: “For purposes of this subsection, the term ‘brandish’ means, with respect to a firearm, to display all or part of the firearm, or otherwise make the presence of the firearm known to another person, in order to intimidate that person, regardless of whether the firearm is directly visible to that person.” Discharge of a Firearm
An example of brandishing a firearm would be showing it to a bank teller during a bank robbery to coerce the teller into granting access to the safe. It is important to note that the visible presence of a weapon during a fistfight, for instance, has also been considered “brandishing” by certain courts in different circumstances (United States v. Williams, 520 F.3d 414, 421 (5th Cir. 2008)).
The discharge of a firearm has its normal meaning. To discharge a weapon means to fire it. This can also mean, for example, when in the course of an armed robbery, the gun was discharged accidentally. Dean v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1849 (2009).
Definition of a Firearm
In the context of 924(c), the term “firearm” encompasses any weapon, including starter guns, that is designed to expel a projectile through the use of an explosive. This definition also includes the frame or receiver of such a weapon, firearm mufflers or silencers, and destructive devices. It is important to note that antiques are not considered firearms under this definition. For a detailed explanation, refer to 18 USC § 921(a)(3).
Regarding drug trafficking crimes and crimes of violence, it is worth mentioning that the United States Code provides various explanations for these terms. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that this area of law is highly intricate and subject to constant evolution.
Drug Trafficking Crime
Drug trafficking crime holds a specific meaning as defined in Title 18, United States Code Section 924(c)(2). According to this subsection, the term “drug trafficking crime” encompasses any felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801] et seq.), the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), or chapter 705 of title 46.Crimes of Violence
Examples of drug trafficking crimes include drug conspiracy, drug trafficking, and other forms of federal drug crimes. Generally, there is little dispute regarding the classification of an underlying crime as a “drug-trafficking” offense in 924(c) prosecutions. However, there may be rare instances where this becomes a crucial matter that your attorney must be prepared to advocate for on your behalf.
There are two listed types of “Crimes of Violence” in federal law. Those types of crimes of violence are listed in Title 18, United States Code 924(c)(3):
For purposes of this subsection the term “crime of violence” means an offense that is a felony and—
- has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
- that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.
Penalties for the possession, brandishing, or discharge of firearms in connection with drug transactions or violent crimes are enforced rigorously
Violating 924(c) can lead to a potential life imprisonment as punishment. The severity of the punishment depends on the manner in which the violation occurred. Your offense will fall into one of three categories, with mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years in prison.
- Possession of a Firearm in furtherance of either a drug crime or a crime of violence has a penalty of at least five years in federal prison.
- Brandishing a Firearm in furtherance of either a drug crime or a crime of violence has a penalty of at least seven years in federal prison.
- Discharge of a Firearm in furtherance of either a drug crime or a crime of violence has a penalty of at least ten years in federal prison.18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A). The court cannot sentence a defendant to probation for these offenses. See 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(D)(i).
- Terms run consecutively to other sentences
Possession, brandishing, and use of a firearm in drug transactions or violent crimes result in consecutive terms of imprisonment, separate from any other offenses committed.
Under this subsection, no prison term imposed on an individual shall run concurrently with any other sentence, including those imposed for crimes of violence or drug trafficking, in which the firearm was used, carried, or possessed.
For example, if a defendant is charged with and convicted of drug trafficking and carrying a weapon in furtherance of the crime, they may receive five years for the drug offense and five years for the firearm offense. These sentences would be served consecutively, with the defendant serving five years for the drug offense first, followed by another five years for the firearm offense.
If a person completes their entire sentence for possession, discharge, or use of a firearm in drug transactions or violent crimes and is subsequently charged and convicted of another offense, the punishment range begins at 25 years. This mandatory sentence applies.
In cases where a violation of this subsection occurs after a prior conviction under the same subsection has become final, the person shall be sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of 25 years. It is important to note that fines and terms of supervised release may also be imposed in addition to prison sentences.
Don’t Face a Charge Under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c) Alone
The stakes are incredibly high: a potential lifetime in prison. If you’re seeking legal counsel that is prepared to rise to the challenge of your defense, reach out to Sosinsky Law now to speak with our esteemed federal criminal defense attorney in New York City for a free consultation.