When a firearm is used in relation to a drug trafficking offense, Federal prosecutors will often charge a 924(c) crime otherwise known as using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. The penalties are harsh because a conviction results in a mandatory minimum sentence which must be served consecutive to the underlying drug offense. Depending on the circumstances, the mandatory minimum sentence could be as little as five years and as much as 30 years.
There are two different ways this offense may be proven:
- Using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to the drug offense, and
- Possession of the firearm in furtherance of the drug offense
Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Offense
The Supreme Court has stated that “use” is more than mere possession of a firearm but requires some active employment of the firearm by the person committing the drug offense. “Carrying” has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that the firearm must be on the person or accompanying the person as when a person knowingly possesses and conveys firearms in a vehicle including in a locked glove compartment or trunk of a car. To constitute a “carrying” offense, the firearm need not be immediately available for use and there should be some type of physical transportation of the firearm. The term “during and in relation to” requires that the firearm “furthered the purpose of the drug crime” and the firearm’s presence was not the result of coincidence.
Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Offense
Being in possession of a firearm “in furtherance of” the drug offense requires a higher standard of participation than the “during and in relation to” offense. The government must show that the firearm was possessed to advance or promote the commission of the underlying drug trafficking offense. There must be a specific connection between the firearm and the offense charged. Guns strategically located for quick access and ease of use could be facts that demonstrate “possession in furtherance of”. There are several factors that must be examined when determining whether the firearm possession was “in furtherance of” including:
- Whether the firearm was loaded
- The type of firearm
- Whether the weapon was stolen or legally possessed
- The type of drug activity convicted
- The time and circumstances under which the gun was found
If the firearm was brandished the penalty is 7 years. If it is discharged – 10 years. If the weapon was a machine gun or equipped with a silencer the minimum penalty is 30 years.
Remember, these penalties are consecutive to the sentence for the underlying drug case. Thus 924(c) offenses are very serious and must be attacked aggressively by an experienced federal drug and firearms defense attorney.