15 Sep 23

Defending Against Charges of Using Mail to Distribute Firearms

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Last Updated on: 19th September 2023, 05:22 am

Defending Against Charges of Using Mail to Distribute Firearms

Being charged with illegally mailing or shipping firearms can lead to serious criminal penalties. However, there are potential defenses to explore if you believe you have been wrongly accused. This article covers strategies for building a defense against federal charges of unlawful use of the mail or interstate shipment channels to traffic firearms.

Understand the Relevant Laws

Several federal statutes regulate mailing or shipping firearms, including:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(2) – Prohibits common carriers from transporting firearms knowing they will be delivered to someone not licensed to possess them.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3) – Prohibits any non-licensee from transporting firearms into their state of residence if that state requires a license.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(5) – Prohibits non-licensees from transferring firearms to other non-licensees who reside in a different state.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 922(e) – Prohibits shipping firearms or ammunition through the U.S. Postal Service.

There are exceptions, like mailing firearms between licensed dealers. But in general, non-licensees face restrictions on mailing or shipping guns. Violations carry up to 5 years in prison.

Analyze the Specific Charges

If you’ve been charged federally, the indictment will cite specific statutes you allegedly violated. Analyze the exact charges to understand what prosecutors must prove. This helps identify potential defenses.

For example, if charged under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3), the government must prove you transported a firearm into your state of residence without a license. Defenses could include you having a valid license or not crossing state lines.

Review the evidence mentioned in charging documents as well. Pinpoint any weaknesses you can exploit to raise reasonable doubt.

Challenge Intent and Knowledge

These laws require prosecutors to prove you knowingly violated firearm shipping restrictions. Argue you never intended illegal conduct and had no knowledge of the laws.

For instance, if you mailed a gun to an out-of-state friend as a gift, maintain you thought it was legal between two private individuals. While ignorance doesn’t excuse breaking the law, you can still challenge whether the government can prove criminal intent.

Question the Firearm’s Nexus to Interstate Commerce

Federal firearm laws rely on Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. Argue the specific gun you mailed lacked a sufficient commerce clause nexus.

For example, if you shipped an antique rifle solely within your state’s borders, preserve there was no interstate commercial activity. Press prosecutors to establish a clear interstate nexus.

Dispute Ownership or Possession

These statutes apply to transporting firearms you own or possess. Fight charges by disputing you ever actually owned or possessed the gun shipped.

For instance, if your spouse mailed a gun registered under their name, maintain it was never your property. Or if a package containing a gun was addressed to someone else in your home, deny ever taking possession of it.

Challenge the Interstate Element

Many federal firearm shipping offenses require crossing state lines. Contest whether prosecutors can prove interstate transit for the specific mailing.

For example, if you allegedly mailed a gun from New York to Pennsylvania, argue there’s no evidence it ever left New York. Put the government to their burden of proof on interstate movement.

Allege Entrapment

Entrapment is a defense asserting police improperly induced you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have. This Cornell Law overview examines how to establish an entrapment defense.

If undercover agents pressured you into a firearm mailing offense you resisted, you may have a solid entrapment claim. Proving improper police conduct caused the crime could lead to acquittal.

Suppress Evidence from an Illegal Search

The Fourth Amendment requires warrants or probable cause for searches. File a suppression motion challenging evidence from a search lacking either.

For example, if agents searched your home without a warrant and found mailed guns, argue for suppression. Getting illegally obtained evidence thrown out can gut the prosecution’s case.

Negotiate a Plea Deal

Rather than risk trial, try negotiating a plea bargain with reduced charges and a lighter sentence. Admit limited culpability in exchange for prosecutors dropping the harshest charges.

However, be cautious about accepting any deal including prison time. Consult your lawyer about prospects for acquittal before pleading guilty.

Seek Dismissal for Vagueness

Argue the statutes are unconstitutionally vague on what conduct they prohibit. Unclear laws violating due process can warrant dismissal. This Cornell article examines the void for vagueness doctrine.

For example, challenge terms like “engaged in the business” or “principal objective” in 18 U.S.C. § 922 as too vague.

Assert Second Amendment Rights

Argue the charges violate your Second Amendment right to bear arms. Contend restrictions on mailing or shipping firearms infringe on Constitutional protections.

However, courts apply intermediate scrutiny since these laws only regulate commercial sales. The Second Amendment likely won’t invalidate them entirely.

Claim Selective or Vindictive Prosecution

Allege prosecutors singled you out for unfair reasons like race, religion, or exercising free speech rights. Selective prosecution based on these discriminatory factors violates equal protection.

You can try proving selective prosecution by showing:

  • Others who mailed guns without being licensed were not prosecuted[1]
  • You were targeted for prosecution based on race, religion, or protected speech[2][3]
  • The decision to prosecute you was motivated by impermissible discrimination rather than facts[4]

Claim prosecutors are punishing you for exercising constitutional rights. For example, argue mailing the gun was an exercise of Second Amendment rights. Vindictive prosecution as retaliation for exercising legal rights could support dismissal.

Allege prosecutorial misconduct like hiding exculpatory evidence, leaking information, or making inflammatory public statements. Prosecutors are held to high ethical standards[5] and misconduct could bolster dismissal arguments.

Argue prosecutors are exceeding their broad discretion and seeking excessive punishment under the circumstances. Judges can dismiss cases where prosecutors clearly abused their power and discretion[6].

Note selective and vindictive prosecution claims are very hard to prove. But if you have evidence of discrimination or retaliation, raise the issue to put prosecutors on the defensive.

Discuss all options with your criminal defense lawyer when building defenses against federal firearm trafficking charges. With an experienced legal advocate, you can maximize chances of success at trial or securing a favorable plea deal.