Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

In many cases in which a person engages in criminal activity while using a firearm, he or she may be charged with additional offenses in addition to facing charges for the underlying crime. For example, a person that commits a crime of violence while carrying a weapon may be charged with a federal firearms offense. Recently, a Florida court addressed the issue of whether a RICO conspiracy crime constitutes a crime of violence under federal law, ultimately determining that it does not. If you are charged with RICO conspiracy or any other drug crime, it is prudent to speak with a St. Petersburg drug crime defense attorney experienced in handling complex matters to determine what defenses may be available.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the defendants, collectively, operated an organization engaged in drug trafficking in Florida. Many of them carried guns while they kidnapped, beat, and murdered people. They were charged with and convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, drug trafficking conspiracy, gun crimes, and other offenses. Following their convictions and sentencing, they appealed on several grounds, including the issue of whether RICO conspiracy is a crime of violence.

RICO Conspiracy Is Not a Crime of Violence

Under federal law 18 U.S.C. 924(c), a crime of violence is a felony that includes as one of its elements the use, or attempted or threatened use, of physical force against another person or property, or that by its nature, involves a significant risk that physical force will be used in the commission of the offense. After the statute was enacted, the clause regarding a significant risk of force was deemed unconstitutional. Thus, in determining whether an act constitutes a crime of violence, the court must look to the elements of the crime.

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If you are convicted of a felony in Florida, in addition to other penalties and fines, you are prohibited from owning a gun. Therefore, if you are found to be in possession of a gun following your conviction, you will face criminal charges. Unless the police actually find the gun in your possession the State may be forced to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the charges against you. In cases where the State solely relies on circumstantial evidence, a defendant may be able to avoid a conviction by offering a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. A Florida appellate court recently discussed what constitutes a reasonable hypothesis of innocence in a case in which the defendant’s acquittal for the crime of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon was reversed. If you are a convicted felon living in St. Petersburg and you were recently charged with unlawful possession of a firearm it is vital to retain a trusted St. Petersburg gun crime defense attorney who can develop compelling arguments in your defense.

Facts Regarding the Defendant’s Arrest

Allegedly, the police conducted a traffic stop on a speeding car. When the car stopped, the driver exited the car and began running towards an apartment complex. The officer started to chase the driver and heard something metallic hit the pavement. The officer was unable to describe the man other than to give his height and race. The officer then noticed that the object the man dropped was a gun. The officer remained at the scene because he did not want to leave the gun and car unattended. A short time later, a woman who was later identified as the defendant’s girlfriend came out of the apartment complex and advised the police that the car was hers. The defendant was subsequently charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

It is reported that DNA testing was conducted on the gun and the magazine inside of the gun. During the trial, the State called two DNA experts as witnesses. The experts testified that the defendant’s DNA was found on the magazine. The experts also offered testimony as to how DNA can be transferred without a person touching an object. Specifically, DNA can be transferred when a person shakes hands with another person who then touches the object, sneezing, or the object coming into contact with the person’s clothes. After the State rested, the defendant moved for an acquittal based on two reasonable hypotheses of his innocence: that his DNA may have been on the gun due to a secondary transfer, or that he touched the magazine on a different date. The court ultimately granted the motion, after which the State appealed.

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Florida juries are given what some courts describe as an inherent pardon power to return a verdict of guilty for a lesser offense. However, the jury must be instructed as to lesser included offenses. If not, this may constitute a per se reversible error. In a recent decision, the appellate court found that the lower court erred in not instructing the jury on the charge of improper exhibition of a firearm, which was a permissive lesser included offense of attempted first-degree murder.

The appellant was involved in a verbal dispute with a woman at a convenience store. During the course of the argument, the appellant drew a gun and said he had a bullet for the woman and her fiance. The woman left and joined her family at the park. The appellant followed the woman and threatened to kill her and her family. He later fired shots at the woman and her aunt as they attempted to drive away. The appellant was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in this Florida gun crime case.

The defense counsel requested an instruction on the improper exhibition of a firearm as a lesser included offense of attempted first-degree murder. The Florida jury instructions identify lesser included offenses, and, if requested, the court must instruct the jury on a lesser included offense of the crime charged against the accused, as long as it is supported by the information and evidence. Improper exhibition of a firearm was a lesser included offense in this case. However, the lower court did not allow the instruction, and the appellant appealed his conviction.

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