A Minnesota man previously convicted of several violent offenses unknowingly showed an undercover officer an arsenal of ammunition and weapons. According to the StarTribune, his cache included an AK-47 rifle, a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a .22-caliber semiautomatic assault rifle. He was arrested and a federal grand jury indicted the man on six counts of illegal possession of ammunition and firearms. The man pleaded guilty to one count. According to federal law, he was issued a sentence of 15 years in prison, a punishment that even the ruling judge agreed was too long.
Taking criminal history into account
Federal law prohibits people with a felony conviction from possessing any kind of firearm, though the law tends to be vague. In 1984, legislators passed the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which mandates a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for people who have previously been convicted of three serious drug offenses or violent felonies. In this man’s case, prosecutors argued that he already had a criminal conviction for each of the following:
- Robbery, a violent offense
- Attempted robbery, a violent offense
- Possession of a sawed-off shotgun, a violent offense
The matter at hand involves whether or not merely possessing a firearm should constitute as a violent offense, which even court systems seem to dispute.
The issue at stake
Several courts have ruled that merely possessing a sawed-off shotgun is not a violent felony, including the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 6th, 7th and 11th Circuits. In this man’s case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit disagreed, prompting the man’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyer for the defendant has stated that the man, known for being a white supremacist, did a lot of talking but did not take any action with the weapons he possessed. Further, the attorney states that simply owning a gun should not constitute a violent offense because the weapon has not been used.
The Supreme Court will now consider if the 15-year punishment fits the crime. If the man’s appeal is successful, not only could he receive a lesser sentence, but the ruling could also grant early releases for a number of other people who have a similar criminal background.
In Minnesota, people with non-violent felony convictions may regain their firearms rights upon completing their sentence. Those who have committed a violent offense will have to petition a court in order to have their rights restored. People with questions regarding their rights to own or carry a firearm should consult with a criminal defense attorney.