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Tennessee Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Being an Armed Career Criminal

April 11, 2011, by The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC

While most non-lawyers are aware that a person's prior criminal history can impact their sentencing for future crimes, few people are aware of how drastic the sentences can be for convicted felons who continue to possess firearms. One such example of an enhanced punishment due to one's past deeds is contained in the Armed Career Criminal laws found at 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) and in the United States Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.4.

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Earlier today, Tennessee resident Bradlee Thomas was sentenced to a 15-year sentence for being an armed career criminal. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Thomas pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Due to Thomas' prior criminal history, which included convictions for burglary, he was exposed to enhanced punishment as an armed career offender.

18 U.S.C. § 924(e) provides:

In the case of a person who violates section 922 (g) of this title and has three previous convictions by any court referred to in section 922 (g)(1) of this title for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another, such person shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than fifteen years...

Further, the Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.4 will typically provide a beginning base level of 33 or 34. Based on a person's criminal history, the Sentencing Guidelines range will be anywhere from 188-327 months. Of course, a defendant may be able to lower his/her guideline level through such avenues as Acceptance of Responsibility and providing "substantial assistance" to the Government. Regardless of these potential sentencing reductions, a defendant with certain classes of prior felonies who is found in possession of a firearm is looking at a potential lengthy prison sentence.

Tennessee Court Sentences Florida Man to 37 Years for Drugs and Firearms Violations

April 4, 2011, by The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC

As another example of the Government's crackdown on those persons involved in illegally distributing prescription pain medicine, last week in federal court in Greeneville, Tennessee,
U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer sentenced Robert Velez, 26, of Florida, to 444 months in prison for his leadership role in an oxycodone conspiracy stretching from south Florida to northeast Tennessee and his involvement in a shooting incident in Morristown, Tenn., related to an oxycodone debt owed to Velez by a co-conspirator, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

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Velez decided to go to trial and was ultimately convicted at trial of:
1. conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone;
2. the use, carry, and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime;
3. four counts of using a communication facility in committing, causing, and facilitating the commission of a drug trafficking crime; and
4. possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The prosecution argued at trial that Velez was supplying thousands of oxycodone pills to co-conspirators to transport and distribute in Tennessee. Evidence was also presented at trial that Velez "put a hit out" on one of his co-conspirators when the co-conspirator failed to deliver money to Velez after the co-conspirator was arrested by local police and a large number of oxycodone pills were seized from him. The money from the sale of these pills was allegedly owed to Velez. Velez allegedly also told said co-conspirator and his girlfriend that it was "game over" for both of them for not paying his drug debt.

Tennessee federal drug and firearm lawyers will often see enormous sentences result from a defendant's combined use of firearms while distributing narcotics. Further, this case shows how long law enforcement may be involved with a case prior to a defendant even being aware of government action. In Velez's case, the government's investigation began in May, 2008, almost 3 years before Velez was ever sentenced. A simple word of advice for potential defendants in any type of federal case would be to secure legal counsel and let your attorney's team begin its investigation immediately. A defendant could lose precious time and negotiating power by waiting until a formal indictment is issued.

Tennessee Company and Citizens Indicted for Violation of Arms Export Control Act

February 10, 2011, by The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC

Earlier this week, five individuals and a Nashville firearms manufacturer were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges relating to international firearms and trafficking violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee. As discussed in an earlier blog post, the AECA is set forth in 22 U.S.C. § 2778, and this law provides the federal government with authority to control the export of defense articles and services.

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In this particular case, the Government alleges that the defendants were part of a scheme which began in 2003 to thwart U.S. import/export restrictions on firearms and their components. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Department of Justice claims, "The defendants allegedly went to great lengths to conceal their activities and evade U.S. laws - mislabeling packages, falsifying shipping records, and maintaining a fictitious set of books and records, among other things. The illegal trade of firearms and their components poses serious risks and, as this case shows, we cannot and will not tolerate it."

The indictment alleges that each of the defendants conspired to intentionally violate the AECA by causing firearms components, which are listed as "defense articles" on the United States Munitions List, to be exported from the United States to an international location without first obtaining a license or written authorization for such export from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls of the United States Department of State. According to the indictment, the export of "defense articles," such as firearms or firearms components or other military items on the US Munitions List, are strictly controlled by the AECA and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

At this point, each of the defendants will soon appear in U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tennessee, for their Initial Appearance and Arraignment. At that time, the Court will address issues of pre-trial release and scheduling of important dates such as trial, motion deadlines, and plea cutoff deadlines.

Possession of Prohibited Gun Parts Can Lead to Severe Punishment Under Federal Law

January 25, 2011, by The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers often deal with cases involving firearms and handguns, and these types of cases come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This blog post is designed to address a few issues arising from possession of prohibited gun parts, including silencers, which is prohibited by 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d).

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26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) makes it "unlawful for any person ... to receive or possess any firearm which is not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record." A silencer is a type of firearm, according to 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a)(7), and is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(24) as "any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication." Defenses to violations of these laws based on a silencer being inoperable typically fail. (See United States v. Carter, 465 F.3d 658 (6th Cir.2006); and United States v. Rose, 522 F.3d 710, (6th Cir.2008).

The penalties and punishment for violating this federal gun law are found in 26 U.S.C. §§ 5871 & 5872 and United States Sentencing Guidelines § 2K2.1. The statute states, "Any person who violates or fails to comply with any provisions of this chapter shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $10,000, or be imprisoned not more than ten years, or both." The statute also provides for forfeiture of any weapon governed under the statute. The sentencing guidelines vary greatly depending on factors such as criminal history, type of weapon, number of weapon, and intended use of the weapon, among others.

Gun collectors and amateur firearm enthusiasts should be very careful about the types of guns, firearms, and ammunition, that they maintain in their possession or control. Simply having illegal or prohibited parts, even if inoperable, may result in your arrest for violation of federal gun laws.