What You Ought to Know About Federal Firearms Charges

You or a loved one has been accused of a crime involving firearms. To make matters worse, it is classified as a federal crime. You may be wondering what makes it a federal crime and what difference that makes. Once classified, the difference between state and federal crimes is different procedures and stiffer penalties; you need a defense attorney who is licensed with the federal court and understands these differences and the stakes involved. Keep in mind that Washington state also has its own firearm laws and if there was any suspected crime against Washington statutes that is not being classified as federal you may be facing additional charges and penalties.

There are several firearm crimes that are immediately considered federal. Selling firearms across state lines without a license to do so is a federal crime. Knowingly falsifying information to purchase firearms, known as straw purchases, is a federal crime. Distorting a serial number in any way is a federal crime. Possession of a firearm by certain persons is a federal crime. The list of persons prohibited from owning a firearm under federal guidelines is as follows: convicted felons, fugitives, addicts to illegal substances, those who have been committed to a mental institution, illegal aliens, those dishonorably discharged from the military, those who have given up US citizenship, anyone with a restraining order against them, and anyone that has been convicted of a crime with a domestic violence designation. Knowingly selling a firearm to anyone that would be in that grouping is also a federal crime. Usually federal firearms crimes carry a penalty of 5-10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. This is per offense so if there were multiple firearms involved the penalty would be multiplied by however many as each firearm is considered its own offense. Plus if the federal firearms crime is in connected with the committing of a violent crime there can be an additional 25 years in federal prison added on top of that.

You, or your loved one, need not give up hope. You have options for defense. The burden of proof is on the prosecution – they have to prove every element of the crime. Ask yourself some questions.  Is your charged based on the person to whom you sold the gun? And if so, did you only just now finding out that that person was not allowed a firearm? It is not a crime to be tricked or deceived.  Though it may be left to a jury to determine whether it is believable or not that you did not know. These kind of potential defense before a jury can win your case if you choose to have a trial.  They can also be used for leverage in negotiating.

Also, consider how the government agency or law enforcement found the weapons. Inform your defense attorney of everything that happened. There are rules to search and seizure originating in the US Constitution.  Also the Washington State Constitution is more protective of your rights, you still are protected against unlawful government intrusion into your private affairs, especially a search of your person or your home.   For example, if the firearms were found in your car there would have needed to be reasonable cause for the police to stop your car in the first place and subsequently there would have needed to be reasonable cause for the police to search your car.  Either that, or they would need your permission to search the vehicle.  By the way, you absolutely should never give that permission.  For another example, if the firearms were found in your home then they would almost certainly need a search warrant or very sufficient cause for the home to be searched. If these rules weren’t followed, that may provide grounds to suppress the evidence.  The evidence may be so essential to the case that the entire case that the government has no choice but to dismiss the case.  Again, even if you do not wish to litigate this issue you can use these types of issues to negotiate a better outcome.

Ask yourself one more question. Were you in a circumstance where you needed a gun for safety?        Was there no other reasonable alternative? This will not dismiss the charge but it allow for the possibility of escaping or reducing liability. If you find yourself facing a Federal or State Firearm charge then call Smith & White, PLLC – the first consult is free.