Florida Court Explains Evidence Needed to Justify a Firearm Enhancement

While owning a gun, in and of itself, is not a crime for most people, when a person found guilty of committing a drug offense, has a gun, it can result in increased penalties. In other words, a sentencing court may impose a firearm enhancement in some instances. Recently, a Florida court discussed what the prosecution must prove to justify such an enhancement in a case in which the defendant argued his sentence for drug trafficking was improper. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a capable Tampa criminal defense lawyer about your potential defenses.

The History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was indicted by a grand jury with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. He entered a guilty plea. The Presentencing Investigation Report (PSI) indicated that following the defendant’s arrest for the charged offenses, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent obtained a warrant to search his residence and found a pistol near his bed.

It is reported that the probation office applied an enhancement for the defendant’s possession of a dangerous weapon in determining his offense level and recommended a sentence of 60 to 71 months’ imprisonment. Before sentencing, both the defendant and the prosecution objected to the firearm enhancement. The court overruled the objections and sentenced the defendant to 62 months in prison, after which he appealed.

Evidence Needed to Justify a Firearm Enhancement

On appeal, the defendant argued that the firearm enhancement was improper as there was no evidence that he used the weapon in the commission of the crime. The court explained that a person convicted of drug trafficking is subject to a two-level sentence enhancement if he or she possessed a dangerous weapon.

In order to justify a firearms enhancement, the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the firearm was present at the location of the charged conduct or that the defendant possessed a firearm while engaging in conduct associated with the offense for which he or she was convicted. The government must also prove that a nexus beyond mere possession exists between the gun and the crime committed.

The government is not required to show, though, that the firearm was used to facilitate the distribution of drugs in order for the enhancement to apply. Merely establishing the presence of the gun is sufficient. In the subject case, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to justify the enhancement and upheld the defendant’s sentence.

Speak to a Seasoned Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

A conviction for a drug offense can result in a lengthy sentence, especially if the prosecution alleges guns were involved in the commission of the crime, but there are often numerous defenses defendants can assert to avoid guilty verdicts. If you are accused of committing a drug crime, it is advisable to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a seasoned Tampa criminal defense attorney with ample experience defending people charged with serious crimes, and if you hire him, he will fight to help you seek a favorable outcome. You can contact Mr. Hanlon via the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a conference.