Weapons Crimes and Sentence Enhancements for Repeat Offenders

Weapons crimes often can come with strict sentencing rules including, in some circumstances, sentence enhancements. If you are facing such a possibility, it is vital to have a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer on your side to help you establish that you do not qualify for the enhanced sentence and should not be subject to a longer time behind bars.

Here’s an example from Florida of how these things can unfold. In 2013, federal authorities indicted F.S. for “possession of a firearm by a convicted felon” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Normally, this crime would carry with it a maximum sentence of 10 years.

F.S., however, received a sentence of more than 17-1/2 years, though. How? The federal court determined that a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (18 USC § 924(e)) applied. That enhancement took F.S.’s crime from something with a maximum of 10 years to something with a minimum of 15 years.

The ACCA sentence enhancement only applies, however, if you have at least three previous convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense. In F.S.’s case, the court identified exactly three such priors.

18 USC § 924 lays out specific things that a crime must have to count toward this “three priors” element. One of these requirements is that the crime had “an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another” or else is “burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

That “use… against the person of another” language is crucial because, in 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that this wording imposed a mens rea requirement of “purposeful or knowing conduct.”

The importance of that tied back to F.S.’s 1998 conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in violation of § 784.021(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes. F.S.’s appellate argument was that this crime was something in which he acted in a reckless manner. (Mere recklessness is not a sufficient mens rea, as it does not establish that the accused “directed his action at, or target, another individual.”)

Had the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted that argument, it would have derailed the ACCA enhancement. The court, however, sought an opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, which declared that the crime of which F.S. was convicted in 1998 was something that “simply cannot be violated without the actor ‘direct[ing] his action at or target[ing] another individual.'”

So, F.S.’s recklessness argument failed and his 1998 conviction could count for purposes of an ACCA sentence enhancement. Nevertheless, F.S.’s case is a good illustration of how very discrete details can be the keys to overcoming sentence enhancements in some cases.

Weapons crimes — whether in state court or federal court — can carry very harsh sentences, especially if it is not your first conviction. You need an experienced trial attorney to help you avoid the worst of these potential penalties. The knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. are here to help. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your free initial consultation and find out how to put our experience to work for you.

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