Mandatory Minimum for Firearms Offenses

We are starting to see the effects of a bill signed into law back in November 2015 which created mandatory minimum sentences for certain firearms offenses, including possession of a firearm by a felon.  This post will describe the new law and explore the consequences you face if charged and convicted under the new sentencing scheme.

Mandatory Minimum for Firearm Possession

Possession of a firearm by a felon carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison, broken down into five years of initial confinement and five years supervision, and/or a $25,000 fine.  Now, if the following two criteria are met, the defendant will face a mandatory-minimum sentence of three years initial confinement:

  • The defendant was previously convicted of committing, soliciting, conspiring, or attempting to commit a violent felony.
  • The defendant committed the offense of possession of a firearm by a felon within five years after completing his sentence, including probation, parole, or extended supervision, for a prior felony or violent misdemeanor.

The new law defines numerous crimes as “violent felonies,” but also includes “violent misdemeanors” such as battery, endangering safety by use of a firearm, and certain crimes against animals.

If the above criteria are met, a judge must sentence the offender to a mandatory prison term of three years initial confinement.  Prior to this law, the court was not bound by the legislature and was free to impose any sentence it deemed appropriate under the facts.

Mandatory Minimum for Use of Firearm

The law also creates mandatory minimum penalties for individuals who use a firearm during the commission of certain violent felonies.  The criteria for imposing a mandatory-minimum sentence under this section is:

  • The defendant was previously convicted of committing, soliciting, conspiring, or attempting to commit a violent felony.
  • The defendant used a firearm in the commission of the violent felony for which the court is imposing the sentence.

The mandatory minimum sentencing scheme depends on the seriousness of the violent felony for which the court is imposing the sentence.   If the violent felony is Class A – Class G, then the court must impose not less than five years; if the violent felony is Class H, then the court must impose not less than three years; if the violent felony is a Class I, then the court must impose not less than 18 months.  It is significant to note that for the Class G, H, and I felonies, the new law requires the court to impose the maximum period of initial confinement allowable under those classes of felonies.  Finally, if the individual is being sentenced for a crime that falls under this heading for “use of a firearm” and also is sentenced for possessing the firearm, then the court must run the two sentences consecutive to one another.

What does this mean for me?

This means that if you or a loved one meets the criteria listed above, you are now facing a mandatory minimum sentence.  Mandatory minimum sentences greatly diminish a sentencing court’s discretion and hamper the court’s ability to look at the defendant in an individualized manner.  It also eliminates many of the mitigating circumstances surrounding the firearm possession.  Due to the newness of the statute, any challenges that have been raised against the sentencing scheme have not yet made it to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.  But there are challenges that can, and should, be raised.  If you or someone you know is facing a mandatory minimum sentence under this new statute, call the attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. today!