Articles Posted in Firearms and Weapons

ar15-rifle-2-1453209-300x81This section went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Deal v. United States 113 S.Ct. 1993 (1993), in which Mr. Deal got a bad deal at court of 105 years in prison for possessing a firearm during five bank robberies.   The Court explored whether “second or subsequent offense” meant that he would have to be convicted by judgment of the first bank robbery on a date before the second or subsequent convictions.   The highest Court found that these offenses could be stacked, even if all convictions happened on one judgment and from one trial.   The 105 year sentence was affirmed.

The “stacking” provision comes next in the statute, where it says:

“(D) Notwithstanding any other provision of law— (i) a court shall not place on probation any person convicted of a violation of this subsection; and (ii) no term of imprisonment imposed on a person under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment imposed on the person, including any term of imprisonment imposed for the crime of violence or drug trafficking crime during which the firearm was used, carried, or possessed.

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Thus, if you bring a firearm to a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime, you will have a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.   If you brandish it, which means show it or make it visible to other people, it goes up to a mandatory minimum of seven years.   If the firearm is discharged one time, whether in the air or in the direction of a person, the minimum goes up to ten years.  If you bring a semi-automatic rifle or a shortened shotgun or rifle, the minimum is ten years.   Machine guns and guns with silencers are 30 year minimums.  That is a big jump.  However, things can get much, much worse on second and subsequent offenses.

The statute goes on to say:

“(C) In the case of a second or subsequent conviction under this subsection, the person shall—

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It is a very bad idea to possess a firearm while robbing a bank, committing any federal crime of violence, or trafficking drugs.   Congress has imposed stiff, sometimes unconsciounable penalties for doing so.   These include mandatory minimums that, with multiple offenses, could get your mandatory minimum sentence into centuries of years in the penitentiary.

18 U.S.C. section 924(c) (1) (A) states that

“(A) Except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by this subsection or by any other provision of law, any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime that provides for an enhanced punishment if committed by the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or device) for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime—

arab-mosque-1-1533662.jpgImportantly, the Penal Code does not define what an “explosive or incendiary device” is, which is a big problem in prosecuting a hoax bomb case. The legislature needs to revisit this issue and make the definitions more clear. Under 46.01(2), “‘Explosive weapon’ means any explosive or incendiary bomb, grenade, rocket, or mine, that is designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting serious bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, or for the principal purpose of causing such a loud report as to cause undue public alarm or terror, and includes a device designed, made, or adapted for delivery or shooting an explosive weapon.” This is more specific but it is not incorporated into the hoax bomb definition or statute. It probably needs to be, so the legislature needs to diligently review this Penal Code section if it wants to make an enforceable offense. Jurors are allowed to use plain meaning to define terms that are not defined in the code, but isn’t “explosive device” and “incendiary device” a little overbroad?

It appears that there certainly is little or no case against Mr. Mohamed, and the government might have a hard time legitimately prosecuting this statute if a hoax bomb as intended to be defined does pop up.

So, Mr. Mohamed, keep working on your dreams. I see a scholarship in your future if you are truly interested in engineering and science. But, any time you bring a unique device to school, let them know ahead of time so everyone is on the same page. There is certainly a level of profiling of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans since 9-11 both nationally and internationally, so you must be aware of this in your endeavors. Use your new celebrity for the good of mankind, however you see best to do so.

clock1.jpgIrving Police based their investigation on investigation of possession of an explosive weapon or hoax bomb. When it was ruled out that the item was not an explosive weapon, possession of which would be a third degree felony, the fall back statute became possession of a hoax bomb. Texas Penal Code 46.01 defines a hoax bomb: “(13)’Hoax bomb’ means a device that: (A) reasonably appears to be an explosive or incendiary device; or (B) by its design causes alarm or reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency or a volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies.” Thus, anything that “reasonably appears” like an “explosive or incendiary device” warrants closer review. That’s common sense in a way, but isn’t that a broad definition. There are many things that could be considered “explosive” or “incendiary” which are not illegal. Wouldn’t a cigarette lighter meet this definition? While that might be a violation of school rules to possess, it is certainly not criminal. Why didn’t they just say “reasonably appears to be an explosive weapon”?
Additional review of the statutes give us little further guidance.

Under Penal Code section 46.08 “[a] person commits an offense if the person knowingly manufactures, sells, purchases, transports, or possesses a hoax bomb with intent to use the hoax bomb to: (1) make another believe that the hoax bomb is an explosive or incendiary device; or (2) cause alarm or reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies.” Such an offense is a class A misdemeanor. Okay, so we really haven’t pinpointed what a hoax bomb is, but if we use something that maybe is a hoax bomb to make someone else believe it is a hoax bomb or cause emergency services to react, we have committed a misdemeanor.

Ahmed Mohamed recently became an international celebrity by being detained by the Irving Police on suspicion of a hoax bomb at school. Mr. Mohamed brought a “rearranged” clock to school in a carrying case which reportedly looked suspiciously like a bomb or bomb detonating device. In the post 9-11 world, things are taken far more seriously, and it was probably a questionable idea to bring the clock in its condition into class without an up-front talk with the school, but such are the minds of 14 year olds. 17-ahmed-mohamed-gmaw529h529.jpgFrom the Iraq war, it was learned that items as small as cell phones or even garage door openers could trigger large bombs which killed Americans. Teachers and administrators were alarmed at the look of the clock device, and called in police. They claimed Mr. Mohamed was evasive with questioning, and was detained on suspicion of a hoax bomb.

Nationally, the case is being used as a hot point to debate the fear or profiling of Muslims by law enforcement. But, the case could actually come down to a poorly written statute and miscommunication by the student to the school. Ahmed by all accounts is a bright and curious kid who likes to tinker with such things as clocks and electronics. His creativity should be encouraged and supported. But, is this another “example” of “Islamaphobia in Texas” for a child to be detained and questioned regarding the improvised or rearranged clock, or would any child regardless of religion or creed be detained for such a “suspicious looking device”? The school district is not allowed to comment on the contents of the questioning. So, without a court case which does not appear forthcoming, there will likely be no record. However, the student’s family has hired a lawyer for a potential civil rights case which may develop the facts more coherently.

Harley.jpgSection 15.02 of the Texas Penal Code makes criminal conspiracy a crime one level lower than the actual substantive offense. It states: “(a) A person commits criminal conspiracy if, with intent that a felony be committed: (1) he agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense; and (2) he or one or more of them performs an overt act in pursuance of the agreement…(d) An offense under this section is one category lower than the most serious felony that is the object of the conspiracy, and if the most serious felony that is the object of the conspiracy is a state jail felony, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor.”

Thus, to have probable cause to arrest a biker present at the Waco Twin Peaks on the day of the shooting for suspicion of conspiracy to commit capital murder, an officer would need probable cause that that individual specifically took an act that day intending that a felony be committed, agree with another person that they engage in conduct that would constitute capital murder, and one of them perform an act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Thus, being a biker there for the meeting alone would not be anywhere near probable cause in itself to be arrested for conspiracy to commit capital murder, even if you were wearing a similar jacket or vest to bikers involved in the shooting. The sweep was very broad and we should all be concerned about the implications of such a mass arrest. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Texas DPS.gifThus, following the shooting, the police had the right to not only arrest any person they observed shooting weapons at others, they would have the right to conduct a protective sweep of not only the outside of the restaurant, but the inside of the restaurant for persons they believed would be a continuing danger. Any person found to be in possession of a firearm would be in violation of the law if the restaurant, Twin Peaks, sells alcohol and the alcohol accounts for 51% of its revenue. Possessing a firearm, even with a conceal and carry permit, is prohibited on the premises (including the parking lot) of such locations. Any customer possessing a firearm inside the restaurant without a conceal and carry permit would also be subject to arrest.

However, the jump to arresting everybody present is where the Constitutionality of the arrests is questionable. Police would, after a protective sweep, be able to pat down suspicions persons for “officer safety” if they have reason to suspect they might be armed and a danger to the officers. Wearing a jacket matching those who were involved in the shootout probably gets officers to this standard, and it is probably not unreasonable to pat down every person reasonably suspected to have affiliation with those involved in the shootout. If they are in possession of a firearm or other illegal items, they can be arrested for such and these are also felony level charges. But probable cause of conspiracy to commit capital murder is a very high standard that is probably only reachable with a few suspects.

RifleCartridges.jpgEach biker shooting at other bikers without justification could be arrested for murder or capital murder. It is capital murder in the state of Texas to unlawfully kill two people in the same criminal episode. However, none of these shooters appear to have been identified in the media. It has also been reported that the police were shooting at people they believed to be wrongfully shooting others, further complicating the scenario. Police and citizens have the right to use deadly force to defend third persons where reasonable, just like any biker present who is in reasonable fear for his life has the right to use deadly force against another to defend himself.

Additionally, following the gunfire, the police would have the right to do a protective sweep of the area. A “protective sweep” is a “quick and limited search of the premises” “conducted to protect the safety of police officers or others.” Protective sweeps are generally conducted incident to an arrest, but the absence of an arrest does not preclude a protective sweep, even in a defendant’s home. For the sweep to be valid, the police must not enter a premises illegally, and their presence must be for valid law enforcement purposes. A legitimate protective sweep must be supported “‘by a reasonable, articulable suspicion … that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the scene,” and may be no more than a “cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found.” A police officer may sweep a premises only if he possesses an objectively reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that a person in that area poses a danger to that police officer or to other people in the area. Finally, the sweep must “last[ ] no longer than is reasonably necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion of danger.”

swat-1-585835-m.jpgLast week, all the news circled once again around a Waco, Texas law enforcement situation. Twin Peaks restaurant was apparently hosting a “biker” day, and several motorcycle clubs were in town for a meeting of a council of clubs. One Dallas lawyer said the meeting revolved around legislative issues dealing with motorcycles. However, the local police were suspicious because some groups are labeled as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Texas law enforcement, and police thought the situation was ripe for explosion. One motorcycle club reportedly showed up uninvited, and a fight broke out in the parking lot. We don’t know what exactly happened, but when the shooting stopped, nine bikers were dead. Police then arrested approximately 170 bikers alleging probable cause that they conspired to commit capital murder. A judge has held each on $1 million bonds, which normally requires raising at least $100,000 in cash or other security.

Probable cause for arrest is a low standard, and is what officers must establish to make roadside arrest or to obtain a search warrant for a house or make a warrantless search of an automobile or other property. Stated most simply, probable cause is some reliable evidence to believe that a crime has been committed, and that a specific person committed it. Probable cause must be individual to each person arrested. The big question is, “how did police have individualized probable cause for each biker arrested in Waco?”