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Federal Drug Trafficking Offenses Involving Firearms in New York

Federal charges involving the use or possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense in New York, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), should be treated extremely seriously, as convictions for this offense may lead to the imposition of lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Eighty-five percent of all defendants convicted of § 924(c) violations as of 2015 were also convicted of another crime – most frequently drug trafficking, robbery, or a separate firearms offense – leading to additional periods of incarceration which must be served consecutively to that imposed for any § 924(c) conviction. Id. In addition, experienced New York federal drug attorneys report that federal prosecutors are hesitant to dismiss a § 924(c) charge during plea negotiations, leaving defendants stuck with plea deals with significant prison time included. Therefore, if you have been accused of federal drug trafficking offenses involving a firearm in New York, you should reach out to our team today.

Specific Federal Statutes Applicable to this Offense

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), any person who uses or carries a firearm during or in furtherance of any drug trafficking offense must, in addition to the punishment provided for such offense, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of at least five years. If the firearm was brandished and not merely possessed, the mandatory minimum sentence is increased to seven years imprisonment, and if the firearm was discharged, the mandatory minimum sentence becomes 10 years imprisonment. Id.

Additionally, if the firearm at issue was a short-barreled rifle, shotgun, or semiautomatic assault weapon, the mandatory minimum sentence becomes 10 years imprisonment. If the firearm at issue was a machine gun or a destructive device, or a firearm equipped with a silencer, the sentence is increased to 30 years imprisonment, according 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B).

Furthermore, if the defendant has previously been convicted of a § 924(c) violation, the mandatory minimum sentence for any conviction becomes 25 years imprisonment, and if the firearm at issue was a machine gun or a destructive device, or a firearm equipped with a silencer, the sentence becomes life imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(C).

How Do Prosecutors Pursue Convictions in Drug Trafficking Offenses Involving Guns?

To secure a conviction, the government must prove that either a drug trafficking offense was related to the use or possession of the firearm. This may be established by proving that a gun was used by a co-conspirator. See United States v. Chavez, 549 F.3d 119, 130 (2d Cir. 2008) (“In order to establish that a defendant possessed a firearm within the meaning of § 924(c), the government need not prove that he physically possessed it; proof of constructive possession is sufficient”), e.g., Garcia v. United States, 15 F. Supp.2d 367, 377 (S.D.N.Y. 1998).

It is important to understand what constructive possession means in this context, as it can be a significant contributing factor toward a conviction in many cases. Actual possession of a firearm entails someone physically holding the gun itself, physically holding a container in which the gun is stored or having the gun close enough so that they could easily reach it. Conversely, a person has constructive possession of a firearm if they have “control” over the place the weapon is stored or hidden.

The key takeaway is that a person does not necessarily need to have a firearm on their person while committing a violent crime or a drug trafficking offense to be charged with a violation of §924(c). For example, if a person uses a motor vehicle during the commission of a drug trafficking offense and leaves a firearm in that vehicle while committing the crime, they could be considered to have constructive possession of a firearm during the drug trafficking offense, allowing for enhanced penalties in the event of a conviction.

What are the Potential Outcomes of these Cases?

A drug trafficking crime is a felony offense punishable by the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq.), or a violation of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. § 951, et seq.). 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2). Further, a crime of violence is defined as a felony that: 1) has an element of physical force – including its threatened or attempted use – against another person or his property; or 2) by its nature involves a substantial risk that physical force would be used in committing the offense. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3); see United States v. Khalil, 214 F.3d 111, 119 (2d Cir. 2000). Either of these is sufficient to support a § 924(c) conviction. Id.

It is rare for a defendant accused of violating §924(c) to only be convicted of that offense. For this outcome to occur, the defendant would still have to be charged with a crime of violence or violation of the Controlled Substances Act at some point in their case, but then be acquitted of their other offenses. Individuals convicted solely of violating §924(c) tend to receive sentences that are as much as five years shorter than those faced by individuals convicted of multiple charges, as do individuals exempted from the mandatory minimum prison terms usually associated with these kinds of convictions.

Discuss Federal Charges for Drug Trafficking Offenses Involving Firearms with a New York Attorney

Getting in touch with a federal criminal defense attorney to defend you in any prosecution for the use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or narcotics trafficking offense is crucial. Our federal firearms lawyers have successfully handled countless cases, exploiting holes in the prosecution’s evidence to achieve favorable results. If you have been accused of a drug trafficking offense that involved a firearm in New York, contact us today for a free consultation.

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