A “924(c)” firearm charge is fairly common offense in federal criminal cases. It is often a companion charge to drug trafficking, Hobbs Act Robbery, or other charges.
As the name suggests, this statute makes it a federal crime to possess a firearm “during and in relation to” a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense. This is the basic definition, but what else should you know about this offense?
How this charge can be proved
First, many courts have given a broad definition to the “in relation to” element. For example, if a person is convicted of selling drugs, and kept firearms in their home but did not use them, they could potentially be exposed to a 924(c) charge as well.
Why? Because, courts have reasoned, maybe they would use those guns if someone tried to rob them of their money or drug stash. The bottom line is that the government may only have to prove a tenuous connection between the drugs and guns in order to prove up the 924(c) charge.
Mandatory prison time
The penalty for this offense is unusual as well – 5 years, no more, no less. This is one of the rare offenses where the judge has no discretion at all as to what sentence to give. The judge may be of the opinion that five years is too severe – the law requires the judge to impose it anyway.
For this reason, a 924(c) charge should be avoided at all costs.
A gift to prosecutors
Because of the ease of proving this offense, and the automatic prison term, it makes an ideal bargaining chip for the government. Many defendants have been persuaded to plead guilty to serious drug trafficking charges based on the explicit or implicit threat of a 924(c) charge.
But what if you have a valid defense to the drug trafficking charge and/or the gun charge? An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you counter the government’s leverage.
Seek legal counsel
If you are facing a 924(c) charge – seek legal counsel immediately. You may have a viable defense to the charge. Did the gun in question actually belong to someone else? Was the gun related to the drug or violent crime? Do you have a defense to the underlying charge? A federal criminal attorney can help you investigate these and other potential defenses.
And, if the government’s proof on the gun charge is solid, your attorney may be able to help you avoid the mandatory time through a plea bargain to the related charge, or through other means.
If you or someone you know may be facing a 924(c) charge, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.