State and federal criminal laws often overlap and intertwine, particularly when it comes to drugs and guns. Law enforcement of every stripe takes these cases very seriously, but federal laws tend to be significantly harsher. In a recent Central Florida gun crime case, a federal district court upheld the U.S. government’s right under the Constitution to impose those penalties, as long as the feds can prove some very minimal connection to interstate commerce.
The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a federal crime. He was eventually sentenced to five years in jail, a sentence that was increased because he had previously been convicted of drug trafficking. He later appealed the sentence, arguing that the feds didn’t have the authority to charge him under the circumstances. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed.
The Court explained that the federal law banning felons from having guns stems from the federal government’s power under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. That clause directly authorizes the feds “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” It has been read broadly to give the government wide enforcement authority over anything that has some connection to commerce between states.
“The statute is constitutional as applied so long as the government proves some minimal nexus to interstate commerce,” the court explained. The government can establish that connection “by demonstrating that the firearm traveled in interstate commerce through testimony that the firearm was manufactured in a different state.”
In this case, the court said the evidence showed that the gun was made outside Florida and possessed by the defendant inside the Sunshine State. Since the weapon crossed state lines at some point, that was enough to establish the interstate commerce connection.
The court also said the defendant’s sentence was properly increased because of his previous drug trafficking conviction. The state law in effect at the time assumed that any person holding more than four grams of hydrocodone is trafficking in the drug, regardless of whether other evidence shows an intent to traffic. The court said the judge properly focused on the statute in place at the time instead of the nature of the defendant’s actual offense to determine that the sentence increase was warranted.
As a result, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction and 60-month sentence.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa gun crime lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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