Drug trafficking or drug activities are often prosecuted in federal court, especially if the activities are on a larger scale. The U.S. Code makes it a separate crime if you carry OR use a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. This charge is known by many persons who have some familiarity with federal criminal charges. It is commonly known as a “924(c).” This is because the charge is at 18 U.S. Code §924(c). Many persons are familiar with the “924(c)” is because of the serious effect this charge can have at sentencing. A 924(c) can add additional years to a drug charge that already recommends imprisonment from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
The federal statute that makes the 924(c) charge reads:
“…any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime that provides for an enhanced punishment if committed by the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or device) for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime —
(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;
(ii) if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and
(iii) if the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years.”
Elements / What the Statute Covers
The requirements for a prosecution under this statute include the following elements supported by evidence. A prosecutor would need to prove:
- A person uses, OR a person carries;
- OR a person possesses in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime;
- A firearm;
- During and in relation to a drug trafficking offense;
- OR during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Basically, the statute was aimed at persons who would further gun violence during the trafficking of illegal drugs.
Carry or Use
A person, who is involved in a drug trafficking crime has only to “carry” or somehow “use” a firearm to be guilty of this separate 924(c) crime. A drug offense could be a conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs [“controlled substances”], possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance, or maintaining a house where drugs are trafficked.
A person prosecuted does not have to point the firearm, or threaten to use it. He/she only has to possess the weapon or somehow “use” it. The use could involve more action, such as making it visible or pointing it.
A “firearm” is commonly called a “gun” or a “weapon.” It can be a handgun, rifle, shotgun, or automatic weapon. The firearm must be capable of expelling a projectile (bullet) when “fired.”
During and In Relation to Drug Trafficking Crime, or Crime of Violence
More commonly, this 924(c) charge is used when a firearm is discovered on a person who is involved with drugs. The drug charges can include distribution, possession with intent to distribute, or conspiracy. Whether a person only possesses a weapon, or brandishes or fires it, it must be related to drug activities. The same relates to a person being charged with 924(c) if in relation to a crime of violence.
Penalties and Enhancements
As stated above in “II Statute,” a person who is prosecuted for this additional charge will receive additional years to a sentence. If a person merely possesses or uses the firearm, he/she will additionally receive at least five (5) years. If the firearm is brandished or fired, the additional sentence would be seven (7) or ten (10) years.
Below is a list of more sentencing enhancements based on the firearm:
“If the firearm possessed by a person convicted of a violation of this subsection–
(i) is a short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or semiautomatic assault weapon, the person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years; or
(ii) is a machine gun or a destructive device, or is equipped with a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, the person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 30 years.
(C) In the case of a second or subsequent conviction under this subsection, the person shall—
(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 25 years; and
(ii) if the firearm involved is a machine gun or a destructive device, or is equipped with a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, be sentenced to imprisonment for life.”
Negotiations of This Charge
Drug trafficking cases are commonly prosecuted in federal court, which is usually conspiracy, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute. Sometimes people are also charged in federal court with maintaining a house where drugs are sold. This means that firearm charges related to these charges are also commonly prosecuted in federal court.
Due to the harsh penalties of this charge, if a person is under investigation for federal drug activities, he/she should obtain counsel. This is to not only try to stop potential charges but to try to negotiate or eliminate additional charges. This is especially true about firearms/weapons/guns related to drug case activities.
Contact Attorney John Teakell
If you have been arrested, or if you are under investigation for firearm charges, contact former federal prosecutor John Teakell. Mr. Teakell will use his experience to defend against firearm or drug charges, or in any criminal case.