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Articles Posted in WEAPONS OFFENSES

In many New York criminal cases, law enforcement officers need to search for evidence. The United States Constitution protects individuals from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” As such, in most cases, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before beginning their search. Despite these protections, the law provides police with significant discretionary power when investigating a criminal incident. Criminal defendants may successfully challenge a search if they can establish that police engaged in the search without a valid warrant or probable cause. However, exceptions to the search warrant rule apply in various situations, such as when the search or seizure is incident to a valid arrest.

For example, recently, the Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling denying a New York defendant’s motion to suppress. The case arose when law enforcement obtained a search warrant to search the defendant’s home. During the search, police recovered several items, including a handgun and ammunition. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, claiming that the warrant was invalid.

In New York, if an officer wants to obtain a search warrant, they must present the basis for the probable cause of their search to a judge. In most cases, a judge will issue a warrant if the probable cause exhibits a reasonable basis for believing that evidence from a crime is in the location they want to search. Officers must submit a sworn statement and describe the location with particularity. Judges typically consider the totality of the circumstances before issuing a search warrant.

After our recent win in an ill-conceived Mossberg Shockwave prosecution earlier this year we would have thought that the issue of the legality of “Other” weapons in New York  would be resolved.  However, rumors started spreading late last week that a New York Licensed gun store owner and licensed dealer was arrested and charged with multiple felonies for selling AR-15 based “Others”.  Our law firm, is closely monitoring this case.

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Dark Storm Industries Non-NFA “Other”Weapon

According to information that we received, Jerome Rallo, the owner of Jerry’s Firearms in Bohemia, New York has been charged with multiple felonies under New York State law for selling illegal weapons including the top counts of Criminal Sale of a Firearm in the First Degree, a class “B” violent felony which carries a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison and a maximum of 25 years in prison.

An appellate court recently issued a decision reversing a New York criminal defendant’s conviction for Criminal Possession of a Weapon. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence, the sawed-off shotgun, found to charge him with the crime, and the jury found him guilty. Amongst other issues, the defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress. The charges arose after police officers stopped the vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger. Officers discovered a sawed-off shotgun and then found a shotgun shell on the defendant.

The officers claimed that they initiated a search of the car after discovering a shotgun shell during a protective pat-down of the defendant. The officers claimed that this discovery provided them with probable cause to search the car, which led to the discovery of the shotgun. The defendant argued that the People did not provide any evidence to support this. He contended that law enforcement searched the car before the pat-down. The court found that even though the People raised arguments that may justify the search, the law does not permit the appellate court from considering those factors because they were not ruled upon by the lower court. Ultimately, they held the appeal and remitted the matter to the lower court for review.

New York firearm possession charges carry serious penalties, and it is crucial that criminal defendants seek representation from an experienced attorney. Those that do not possess a handgun license may be found guilty of unlawful possession. There are four main charges that are typically associated with firearm possession. In some cases, the court may enhance penalties depending on the circumstances and related charges.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, discussing the defendant’s claim that the lower court erred in failing to provide the jury with a requested instruction. Ultimately, the appellate court agreed with the defendant, awarding him a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call stating that a man was shot. Police arrived on the scene, and found the defendant, bleeding from the back of the neck. Police entered the apartment, and found two guns. One of the guns, a submachine gun, was in an open drawer.

Several officers testified, as did the defendant. The testimony of each of the witnesses varied; however, the prosecution claimed that the defendant gave different stories to the responding officers and hospital staff. The prosecution proceeded under the theory that the defendant constructively possessed the firearm.

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As we wrote in our blog on September 11, 2017, we were of the legal opinion that the Mossberg Shockwave was legal to own and possess in New York.  Our opinion in 2017 was based upon the statutory definitions of a firearm, a pistol and a shotgun in New York as well as the opinions of the New Jersey State Police, the Suffolk County Police, and the BATFE.  However, up until last week no Court case had ever confirmed the opinion that Mossberg Shockwave is legal to own and possess in New York.  The reason that no Court case confirmed that opinion is because it appears that no one had been arrested for possession of a Mossberg Shockwave.  However, last week, as has been widely reported, a New York State Supreme Court Justice dismissed four counts in an indictment pertaining to the possession of two Mossberg Shockwaves in a person’s home that were discovered by the police who were executing a search warrant for computer equipment that was allegedly involved in an unrelated Harassment investigation.

Our client was originally indicted for possession of the two Shockwaves in New York City back in December 2018.  When our law firm was retained in May 2020, we immediately pointed out that although our client was indicted for criminal possession of two firearms the Shockwaves were not in fact firearms and that the ballistics report from the NYPD ballistics section that was used in the grand jury to prove that the client possessed operable firearms very specifically did not list the Shockwaves as firearms. Rather, the NYPD’s own ballistic expert described the Shockwaves as an “other weapon”, which is not prohibited by New York Law.  Despite the fact that the ballistics report described the Shockwaves as other weapons, the District Attorney’s Office submitted the ballistics report to the grand jury and used it to seek an indictment for possession of operable firearms.  Even after the District Attorney’s Office was caught in this blatant inconsistency and after we asked them to speak to their own expert who tested the Shockwaves, the District Attorney’s Office continued to demand that we file a written motion to dismiss, which was filed back in June.

In August, The prosecutor finally filed a written answer in which they consented to the dismissal of the Shockwave charges after reading our motion.  The client, had faced a mandatory minimum of three and one half years and had that possibility hanging over his head for more than 2 years until the charges were officially dismissed by the Supreme Court Justice, last week.

Recently, the New York Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest Court, issued an opinion, in a New York gun case, which reversed a lower court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence a gun. The case arose after a police officer stopped the vehicle the defendant was traveling in after his patrol car’s mobile data terminal (MDT) notified him of a “similarity hit.” In response to the similarity hit, the police officer stopped the vehicle and noticed a handgun on the floor in front of the seat the defendant was occupying. The police officer arrested the defendant, even though the car was not registered to him, and he did not have a warrant. At trial, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence that the police officer obtained from the stop.

The police officer testified that it was part of his “routine” conduct to enter license plates into his car’s MDT. In some cases, such as the one at hand, a similarity hit will occur, which notifies an officer that there is a similarity between a person with a warrant and a vehicle’s registered owner. The officer explained that the MDT generates these similarity hits based on the registered owner’s name, date of birth, and aliases. He further testified that he believes that the MDT generates hits based on parameters he was unaware of. In this case, the officer received a similarity hit, and without any other information, he pulled the car over. The officer admitted that after pulling the car over, he did not believe the driver was the subject of the warrant because the driver was female and the subject of the similarity hit, the registered owner, was a male. After discovering the gun and arresting the defendant, he realized that the individual with the warrant did not match anyone in the vehicle, or the car’s registered owner. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the stop was based on the factual sufficiency of the basis of the stop.

Under New York law, if the state faces a sufficiency challenge, they must present evidence to establish that the stop was lawful. Generally, courts hold that vehicle stops are lawful if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle’s driver or occupants have committed or are in the process of committing a crime. However, the state must point to specific facts, in conjunction with logical deductions, that point to the stop’s lawfulness. In most cases, reasonable suspicion inquiries are a question of law and fact. However, in cases such as this, the question is whether the state’s evidence meets the “minimum showing”, and is, therefore, a question of law.

As New York’s premier second amendment lawyers we closely monitor cases that may affect the ability of our client’s to lawfully be in possession of firearms and cases that affect our ability to fight gun charges.  Late last year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession. Constructive possession is a legal fiction by which a person can be found to have “possessed” an item without there being any direct evidence that the item was in the defendant’s immediate control. The concept of constructive possession often relies on circumstantial evidence suggesting that the defendant possessed an item. This opinion is a good example of how the concept of constructive possession works in practice.

According to the court’s opinion, law enforcement pulled over the defendant for a traffic stop. During the stop, the defendant fled the scene, speeding off around a corner that led down a dead-end street. The sheriff’s deputy knew that the defendant had gone down a dead-end road that had a fence on one side and a wooded area on the other. The deputy waited for the defendant to reemerge.

About a minute later, the defendant’s car reemerged but got stuck in a ditch. The defendant was arrested and the deputy searched the area around the one-way street, finding a gun in the wooded area and a hat alongside the road. The gun was about 12-16 feet from the road. DNA samples from both the gun and the hat matched the defendant’s DNA. A jury convicted the defendant, who appealed his conviction. Specifically, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed the weapon.

Under the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), federal law provides for enhanced penalties for people convicted of a crime involving a firearm if they have previously been convicted of several “violent felonies.” New York has similar laws that enhance penalties for persistent violent felony offenders and discretionary persistent felony offenders.  Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which the court will be required to explain what constitutes a “violent felony” under the ACCA. The case is important to New York criminal defendants because it will define what counts as a predicate offense under the ACCA, which could have significant repercussions for a person’s sentence.

The case involves a defendant who was convicted for possession of ammunition. At sentencing, the prosecution presented evidence that the defendant had previously been convicted of five offenses:  a 1974 robbery, a 1982 robbery, a 1983 attempted burglary, a 1986 burglary, and a 1994 robbery. The prosecution argued that each of the previous offenses qualified as violent felonies under the ACCA, and it sought a mandatory sentence on the current case of at least 15 years. If the defendant did not have three qualifying offenses, the maximum sentence that he could receive would have been 10 years. However, the trial court agreed with the prosecution, sentencing the defendant to 15 years.

After the U.S. Supreme Court held that part of the ACCA was unconstitutional, the defendant filed a petition, claiming that several of his previous convictions no longer qualified as “violent felonies.” The prosecution agreed that the 1983 conviction for attempted burglary was no longer a qualifying offense, but it argued that the remaining convictions still qualified under the ACCA. The court disagreed, finding that only two of the defendant’s robbery convictions qualified, and it sentenced him to 88 months.

In October 2019 we published a Blog which posed the question, “Is the NFA dead?  In the article we discussed several types of short barreled weapons which had been reviewed by the ATF and other law enforcement agencies and had been found to not be covered by the National Firearms Act.  In September 2017 we reported in an article about the Mossberg Shockwave and related firearms that such weapons were legal to purchase and own in New York despite the fourteen inch barrel.  However, in our article in October 2019, we discussed the Franklin Armory Reformation line of firearms which at that time were considered to be legal to own and purchase based upon an ATF determination that the firearms were not considered short barreled rifles or shotguns under the National Firearms Act.  However, today, the ATF issued new guidance.

In an “Open Letter” dated December 19, 2019, the Acting Assistant Director of the BATFE for Enforcement, Programs and Services, the ATF determined that Reformation firearms with barrels less than 18 inches are “Short-Barreled Shotguns” under the Gun Control Act, not the National Firearms Act.  It therefore appears that it is difficult to transport or transfer any Reformation firearm with a barrel length less than 18 inches.  According to the BATFE letter, this is the first firearm ever produced that the BATFE has classified as a Gun Control Act Short Barreled Shotgun.  This is notwithstanding the fact that the Reformation does not accept or shoot shotgun shells.

To refresh everyone’s recollection, the Franklin Armory Reformation line includes firearms with a full stock and short barrels but unlike traditional rifles have the lands and grooves cut straight, front to back.  A traditional rifle has the lands and grooves cut in a twisted pattern to impart a spin on the bullet as it travels through and leaves the barrel.  Since the Reformation does not have “rifling” it could not be considered a rifle and therefore was not subject to the provisions of the NFA that pertain to rifles.  In addition, because the barrel of the Reformation is not smooth and since it does not accept shotgun shells, it similarly cannot be considered a shotgun and therefore the provisions of the NFA pertaining to short-barreled shotguns also do not apply.

The National Firearm Act of 1934 (commonly known as the “NFA”) was the first federal gun control act and for the first time created a national registry of purchasers of “Machine guns”, “sawed-off shotguns” and “silencers”.  In addition, a $200 tax is imposed on each transfer of any NFA item and waiting periods can be long.

However, with the recent introduction of innovative new guns and technology that seem to have effectively circumvented the NFA, is the NFA still a useful law?

More than two years ago, we wrote about a new and innovative “shotgun” that has since taken the forearms world by storm.  Originally introduced as the Mossberg Shockwave and then the Remington Tac-14, these shotguns came with a standard 14 inch barrel and an overall length of just over 26 inches.  The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) had examined samples of these firearms and determined that these were legal under the NFA for reasons discussed at greater length in our article about these firearms.

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