Additional Penalties Imposed When a Gun Is Used or Possessed During a Drug Trafficking Crime

Drug trafficking is a federal crime that carries harsh penalties. For instance, manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing 1 kilogram or more of a substance containing heroin can result in a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. If death or serious bodily injury resulted from the offense, that minimum jumps up to 20 years.

But did you know that the terms of imprisonment for a drug trafficking conviction can increase substantially if a firearm were involved in the crime? Under 18 U.S.C. § 924, using a gun to further a felony controlled substance offense can result in additional penalties.

Penalties Vary Based on the Nature of the Offense

The exact punishments a person could face for using a firearm to carry out drug trafficking depend on several factors, such as the type of weapon and how it was used (if at all) during the crime. Let's first clarify that the law applies not only to when the weapon was used. The government can prosecute a person under the statute if the individual merely had a firearm on them, even if it wasn't visible at the time of the offense.

The potential sentence enhancements for a first offense are as follows:

  • Using, carrying, or possessing a firearm: The defendant faces an additional 5 years of imprisonment.
  • Brandishing a firearm: Brandishing includes displaying the firearm, whether in part or in full, or verbally acknowledging its presence to intimidate any other person involved in the offense. A person convicted of this offense can be sentenced to a minimum of 7 years' imprisonment.
  • Discharging a firearm: If the defendant is convicted of firing the gun during the drug trafficking offense, they could be sentenced to not less than 10 years in prison.
  • Possessing a short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or semiautomatic assault weapon: Having any of these during the commission of a drug trafficking offense results in a prison sentence of at least 10 years.
  • Possessing a machine gun, destructive device, or having a silencer or muffler on the gun: This conduct is punishable by a minimum of 30 years in prison.

As noted, the penalties listed above are meted out when a person is convicted of a first offense. The punishments get even harsher for a subsequent conviction. Being accused a second time of carrying, brandishing, or discharging a firearm to further a drug trafficking crime is penalized by a minimum of 25 years of imprisonment. However, if the weapon was a machine gun, destructive device, or had a silencer or muffler on it, the punishment is life in prison.

If a person is convicted of an offense, the court cannot place them on probation, which means the individual must serve their prison time. Furthermore, the term of imprisonment must run consecutively with the sentence for any other crime they're charged with. For instance, if they're found guilty of distributing 1 kilogram or more of a substance containing heroin and they had a weapon on them, they may be sentenced to at least 10 years for the trafficking offense and a minimum of 5 years for possessing a firearm during the crime.

A conviction for any crime can profoundly impact your life. To seek to avoid or minimize penalties, you need a skilled lawyer on your side.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Fort Lauderdale lawyers have over 40 years of combined legal experience and know how to aggressively fight federal charges. For legal help, call us at (954) 840-8713 or contact us online today.