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Drugs and Guns Sold Separately: What Difference Does It Make in Florida?

Suppose you’re involved in a drug dealing operation, but that you’re hardly the “main guy.” You make street-level transactions, obtain drugs from those above you in the cartel, and return cash to your suppliers. Suppose also that you happen, separate from that enterprise, to be in the business of selling illegal firearms. In order to protect yourself from law enforcement, you decide to operate your two businesses as separately as possible. You sell drugs to some people and guns to others, and you assiduously avoid having guns on you when you carry out drug transactions. Your business model, in short, is “drugs and guns – sold separately.”

Let’s say that, despite your best efforts, one day you make some miscalculation during a drug deal and are apprehended by the police. By some misfortune, it just so happens that you’re carrying one of the many illegal guns you own and have it in a holster at your side. You’re brought to court and charged with illegal possession of firearms and distribution of controlled substances. You go to trial and are found guilty. The question then becomes what sentence you’re going to serve.

 

It turns out that the law has some interesting things to say about this question. Typically, sentences for federal crimes like these are calculated in accordance with the federal sentencing guidelines, which, among other things, provide for mandatory minimum sentences. They also contain, notably, what’s known as a “safety valve” for certain drug offenses. For people who play only a relatively minor role in a drug operation, those who—in the statute’s words—are among the “least culpable offenders,” a lesser sentence than the mandatory minimum is available. However, Congress fashioned the law such that drug offenders have to meet five specific criteria in order for the “safety valve” provision to apply. One of these five provisions is that the drug offense can’t have been carried out “in connection with” a firearms offense. So, for someone in your unique position, the safety valve is both very desirable—it could get you out of several years of prison time—and ambiguous in its application. Does the fact that you generally tried to keep your drug business and your gun business separate work to your advantage? How about the fact that you weren’t, on the day in question, actually using the gun to carry out the drug transaction?

A Legal Decision on the Question

These are the issues that the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (which has jurisdiction over appeals from Florida’s federal courts) faced in the 2013 case of U.S. v. Carillo-Ayala. It answered them both in the negative. Unfortunately for the defendant in that case, Mr. Carillo-Ayala, the court concluded that the “sold separately” model didn’t prove that the two offenses weren’t committed “in connection with” each other.

Experienced Counsel Is Familiar with All Aspects of the Law

But be honest: did you have any idea that this was even a viable avenue of getting your sentence reduced in federal drug crimes case? An experienced federal weapons charges attorney like Kevin J. Kulik, P.A. knows these specifics, and can help you steer your case through the complexities of the process.

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