Florida Court Discusses Sentencing for Gun Crimes

Typically, it is unlawful for people previously convicted of felonies to possess weapons. As such, while owning a gun is legal for most people, convicted felons who are caught with guns can be charged with crimes. Depending on the nature of the person’s prior offenses, a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm can result in several years of imprisonment. This was illustrated in a recent Florida ruling in which the court affirmed a defendant’s sentence to fifteen years in prison for possession of a firearm after prior convictions for serious drug offenses. If you are faced with weapons charges, it is prudent to speak with a knowledgeable Sarasota gun crime defense attorney to discuss your case.

Background of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He had three prior convictions under Florida law for the delivery or sale of cocaine. The court determined these offenses to be serious drug crimes under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which mandated an increased minimum sentence of fifteen years in prison. The defendant was ultimately sentenced to 195 months in prison, after which he appealed.

Serious Drug Offenses Under the Armed Career Criminal Act

On appeal, the defendant argued that the sentencing court erred in determining that his prior three convictions for selling cocaine constituted serious drug crimes. Specifically, he argued that to determine whether a state crime is considered a serious drug offense, a court should identify the elements of the generic federal offense and then assess whether the state crime meets those elements.

The defendant went on to state that his state crimes did not require proof of mens rea as an element of the crime and, therefore, could not be considered offenses that involved the manufacturing, distribution, or possession with the intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance. The court rejected his argument, noting that the United States Supreme Court recently held that labeling a state crime a serious drug offense under the ACCA does not require comparison to a generic federal offense.

Rather, it only requires that the state offense involves the same behavior as defined by the elements of the federal statute. In other words, it only required that the defendant’s prior convictions arise out of the possession, distribution, or manufacturing of a drug. The appellate court found that the defendant’s prior crimes clearly qualified and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The defendant also argued that the sentencing court improperly determined that his prior convictions arose out of conduct that occurred on three different occasions because they were not charged in an indictment. The appellate court rejected this argument, noting the sentencing court could rely on certified records from the state court in making that assessment.

Meet with an Experienced Sarasota Attorney

If you are accused of unlawfully owning a gun, it is critical to speak to an attorney regarding how your prior convictions may affect your case. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Sarasota gun crime defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and fight to help you seek a favorable outcome. You can contact Mr. Hanlon at 941-462-1789 or via the form online to set up a consultation.

Does having a local lawyer matter?

Yes. It does matter. Many people feel that a local criminal lawyer will have a deeper relationship with the local prosecutors and local judges. When you’ve spent years practicing within a particular jurisdiction, you earn a certain level of credibility with them. That credibility can play a role in the ultimate resolution of your case.

When should you retain a criminal defense attorney?

The moment you become concerned that you may be the suspect in a criminal investigation, even if you haven’t been arrested, you should contact a criminal defence attorney immediately. Someone needs to be telling your side of the story to the police officer or the state attorney before you’re arrested or criminal charges are filed. Furthermore, if you are a suspect in a criminal investigation you should not be talking to anyone about the allegations, especially a law enforcement officer. Waiting can lead to an encounter with law enforcement that may lead to your arrest. Don’t wait!

Have I been charged with a crime if a police officer has arrested me?

Not necessarily. Only the state attorney (US Attorney’s Office) can formally charge you with a crime. Many people think that they’ve been charged with a crime when they are arrested by a police officer. Police officers only have powers of arrest based on probable cause. They do not have the power to formally charge someone with a crime. You will only be formally charged with a crime after the prosecutor’s office has reviewed the police officer’s criminal investigation and decided to file charges against you. That is why it is critically important to contact and retain our office the moment you suspect you are being investigated.

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