A criminal weapons charge alone is a heavy matter. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explains in U.S. v. Garringer, a gun charge in Florida can come with even more dire consequences when combined with a drug offense.
Yancey Garringer was arrested, charged and convicted of drug trafficking as well the crime of “using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime” after Florida police pulled over his car and found 750 grams of cocaine and an unloaded nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol in the car’s locked glove box. In the console, officers also found an ammunition magazine for the gun.
Garringer later appealed the conviction, arguing that the evidence did not show that he knew that the gun was in the car nor that the gun was being used to commit a trafficking crime. A federal district court denied his motion seeking acquittal on the gun charge.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit explained that in order to obtain a conviction on the gun charge, prosecutors must prove: (1) that the defendant “used or carried” a firearm; and (2) that this occurred “during and in relation to” a drug trafficking crime.” Given that the gun was locked in the glove box, the question, according to the Court was whether Garringer “carried” the gun for the purposes of the offense. Citing its 2002 decision in Timmons v. United States, the Court said that a person generally need only know that a gun is present in his vehicle in order to find that he carried it.
Here, the court found that evidence showed that Garringer was aware that the cocaine was in the car, which was placed below the gun in the glove box. Moreover, both the gun itself and the ammunition magazine were within Garringer’s reach as he was driving the vehicle, implying that he purposely placed it there. He could not, therefore, claim that he was not aware that the gun was in the car.
The Court also rejected Garringer’s claim that he did not carry the gun “during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.” In so doing, it noted that Garringer admitted that he had bought the cocaine in Texas and drove it to Florida, where he intended to sell the drugs. Since the gun was resting on top of the cocaine, the Court found that a reasonable person could determine that “the gun was not entirely unrelated to the drug crime.”
As a result, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision denying Garringer’s motion of acquittal.
Unlawful possession of a firearm is a serious offense that can bring with it significant consequences, particularly when combined with other charges like drug trafficking. The penalties for a weapons charge range from fines to imprisonment. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling weapons-related cases throughout the state. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation and discuss how Anidjar & Levine can aggressively defend your rights in court.
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