One Gun, Many Crimes
The federal firearms laws are structured such that one act of wrongdoing often constitutes multiple offenses. As a result, the potential sentence facing a defendant who commits a firearms offense is often significantly greater than one would expect. In general, however, the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy clause prevents so-called “duplicative” or “multiplicative” prosecutions, wherein one wrongful act is treated as two or more different offenses. For example, suppose that—as Wired magazine reports is now possible—you decided (for whatever reason) to 3D print a firearm. While you might know that doing so is illegal, you might not know that it conceivably constitutes several different federal offenses. You could be charged with making a firearm without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of firearms without a serial number—all for a single gun. The question, then, is whether a prosecution charging you with these three offenses would be multiplicative and therefore run afoul of the Double Jeopardy prohibition.
Florida’s Federal Courts Weigh in
At least one federal trial court in Florida has answered this question in the negative. In the 2010 case of United States v. Marshall, the defendant was charged with all three of the offenses listed above. He was alleged to have been manufacturing silencer components, including “ported tubes, spacers, metal pipes, and metal disks,” which he stored in two separate locations, a public storage locker and a sailboat he owned. The defendant argued that his prosecution for three separate offenses was inconsistent with the constitutional prohibition on Double Jeopardy. He cited the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Blockburger v. United States, which first recognized that prosecution for multiple crimes for a single act was unconstitutional. Under that decision, however, the question isn’t whether the defendant actually committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, but whether the offenses charged technically have the same legal elements. If the government is required to prove something different in order to obtain a conviction for each offense, then they don’t count as duplicative. And in the Marshall case, the court found that making a firearm without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of a firearm without a serial number each had discrete elements requiring individualized proof. Therefore, the court concluded the prosecution was not multiplicative and did not violate Double Jeopardy.
Each of these charged offenses carries a very serious penalty, with a statutory maximum of up to ten years in prison. And judges have the discretion, if they deem it appropriate, to decide that sentences should run consecutively rather than concurrently. In our 3D printing hypothetical then, one bad decision could lead up to 30 years in prison.
Serious Consequences Call for Serious Counsel
When you’re dealing with consequences on this staggering scale over a simple firearms charge, it’s absolutely imperative that you retain counsel who will zealously advocate for your interests at every stage of the trial. If you find yourself confronting a veritable litany of federal weapons charges as a result of your alleged improper possession of a single firearm, get experienced counsel like Fort Lauderdale based Kevin J. Kulik on your side.