Firearm enhancements in federal court
Firearm enhancements can greatly increase an already-harsh federal sentence. Firearm enhancements are just one way in which a federal sentence can be increased. We explore firearm enhancements and how they affect federal sentencing here.
Being charged with a federal crime can be an extremely stressful and complicated matter. One of the reasons for this is that federal crimes carry harsh punishments and a lot of minimum sentencing. Further, there are certain sentencing enhancements that would necessitate a sentence of even more time if certain facts were present. While there may be some ways in which a federal defendant can receive sentence reductions (such as through substantial assistance), there are many ways in which a federal sentence may be increased. These are known as sentencing enhancements.
One set of these enhancements involves the use of or presence of a firearm in the furtherance of certain crimes. These are known as firearm enhancements. Firearm enhancements apply to violent crimes or drug crimes (crimes involving drugs), such as drug trafficking. In this blog, we will give a broad overview of firearm enhancements in federal criminal defense.
How firearm enhancements are applied
18 U.S.C. 924 attaches several mandatory minimums when a gun is possessed or used during the furtherance of a federal crime that involves drugs or violence.
These minimums cannot be served concurrently, they must be served consecutively. This means that the federal court will require the defendant to serve additional time on top of the sentence that they received for the underlying crime.
Examples of fire-arm enhancements (additional prison time faced)
- Imprisonment for not less than five years (baseline if no other enhancements apply)
- Imprisonment for not less than seven years if a weapon is brandished
- Imprisonment for not less than ten years if a firearm is discharged
- Imprisonment for not less than ten years if the firearm is a short-barreled rifle, a shotgun, or an automatic weapon
- Imprisonment for not less than fifteen years if the offense involves armor piercing ammunition
- Imprisonment for not less than twenty-five years if the defendant has a previous conviction which involves a fire-arm enhancement
- Imprisonment for not less than thirty years if the firearm is a machine gun, destructive device, or is equipped with a silencer
- Imprisonment for life if the defendant has a prior conviction which involves a fire-arm enhancement and the firearm is a machine gun, destructive device, or equipped with a silencer.
Standard of proof
Like all criminal charges, fire-arm enhancements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The federal government would have to prove all of the following elements:
- The federal defendant committed a drug trafficking crime or other predicate offense
- The federal defendant knowingly possessed a firearm
- The federal defendant possessed that firearm in furtherance of that crime
**Please keep in mind that actual possession of the firearm is not needed, constructive possession would be enough.
For example: Officers execute a search warrant on John’s home, and they find 230 bricks of heroine, and a gun. John is not home at the time, but he lives alone and his name is on the lease……These would likely be sufficient facts for the fire-arm enhancement to apply to this case.
One of the ways in which a federal criminal defense attorney can be helpful is by negotiating with the federal government to preclude an enhancement (including firearm enhancements). If you have been charged with a federal crime, contact us. Gilles law handles federal criminal defense in North Carolina as well as federal criminal defense in South Carolina.