Can I Be Charged With A Gun-Related Crime Even If I Legally Owned The Gun?
Texas may have some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. But even if you possess a firearm legally, you could still be charged with a crime if that weapon is used in connection with other illegal activity. For example, federal law makes it a crime to use a firearm, legally owned or otherwise, in “furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy.”
Texas Man Convicted of Using Gun to “Further” Drug Trafficking
What does it mean to “further” drug trafficking with a firearm? A recent decision from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Moya, provides a helpful explanation. This case involves a defendant arrested and charged with smuggling illegal drugs into Texas across the Mexico-United States border. Specifically, the defendant’s brother would deliver the drugs to him from a Mexican cartel. The defendant then sold the drugs and his brother returned the money to the cartel.
Law enforcement executed a search warrant for the defendant’s house. The search uncovered, among other items, an unloaded semiautomatic pistol and two boxes of ammunition. To be clear, the gun and ammo was stored in a closet. The defendant did not have it on his person. When questioned by police, the defendant said the gun was purchased with profits from his legal business interests.
Nevertheless, when federal prosecutors had the defendant indicted for drug trafficking, they tacked on a charge of “possessing a firearm during and in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.” A jury found the defendant guilty of this and other charges.
On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the gun charge conviction. Essentially, his argument was that he “legally owned a gun” that happened to be found next to the proceeds of drug trafficking–but that did not prove he used the gun to “further” the trafficking itself. The Fifth Circuit conceded that the “evidence points both ways,” but it ultimately decided to uphold the jury’s guilty verdict.
The Fifth Circuit made it clear, however, that “every gun a drug dealer possesses does not necessarily ‘further’ drug dealing.” The prosecution must present some evidence “more specific to the particular defendant” showing how their possession of the gun “actually furthered the drug trafficking offense.” In this case, the fact the defendant was involved in drug trafficking, that the gun was located near his bed, and that the gun was found in a box with “drug money” was enough to allow the jury to infer the weapon was linked to the defendant’s trafficking crimes.
Speak with a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Federal weapons charges can land a person in serious trouble. That is why if you are facing such allegations it is in your best interests to work with an experienced Pearland gun crimes lawyer who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our criminal defense team.