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Firearm Violation with Prior Violent/Drug Conviction (G.L. c. 269, s. 10G(a))

The 10G/Armed Career Criminal Statute

In line with the federal law, Massachsuetts has a law on the books that punished a person who is found in violation of a gun-related offense after having previously been convicted of a violent or drug offense with very significant mandatory minimum sentences.  In some counties, this is referred to as a "10G" offense. In others it is referred to as an "armed career criminal" offense.  In any case, the statute provides for the following mandatory minimum sentences for people charged with a violation of a firearms-related statute:

  • For persons with 1 Prior Violent/Drug Crime convictions: State prison 3 - 15 years.
  • For persons with 2 Prior Violent/Drug Crime convictions: State prison 10 - 15 years.
  • For persons with 3 Prior Violent/Drug Crime convictions: State prison 15 - 20 years.

Defense Based on Record of Prior Convictions

The mandatory minimum sentences describe above are only applicable where the state can prove that a person has been previously convicted of a qualifying violent or drug-related offense. Proof of a prior conviction can be more difficult than you might think.

First, the record of the prior conviction must match the biographical information of the defendant exactly. Any deviation on the date of birth, name, or other related information can bring the record of conviction into question.  Consider, how many people there might be out there named "Jason White" or "Christopher Davis."  The law requires more than the identical matching of names in order for a court to find that a prior conviction is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Beyond that, there are other ways of defending against the state's attempt to prove a prior conviction, incling some procedural issues based on the rules of evidence.

The point is, proving that a person has previously been convicted of an offense qualifying under the "armed career criminal" statute takes more leg-work than you might think, and the doubt that remains regarding the state's ability to prove the existence of a qualifying conviction is one important area for a defendant to investigate.

Defense Based on Underlying Offense

A mandatory minimum sentence can change the calculation about the necessity to raise a serious defense to the underlying charges. In some cases, a person might think that the evidence is overwhelming and that they should look for a negotiated settlement, but where the state is pursuing a mandatory minimum sentence, a negotiated settlement may be off the table.

We routinely take cases where mandatory minimum sentences make a negotiated settlement unacceptable for the defendant, and we do so because it is importnat to us that people who want to insist that the state prove its case have their day in court.

Defense Based on Statutory Text

In order for the state to pursue a sentencing enhancement based on the Massachusetts 10G/Armed Career Criminal statute, the state must prove that the defendant had previously been convicted of a ''violent crime'," meaning any adult offense punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and some juvenile offenses or a drug-offense under either federal or state law carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years or more. More often than they would like to admit, the police will charge an individual with an armed career criminal/10G offense, despite the fact that the person's record of convictions does not support that offense. 

In such cases, it is important to have an attorney compare the charges, maximim sentences, and the person's previous record of convictions, to determine whether the individual is even eligible for the armed career criminal/10G sentencing enhancememnt.

Constitutional Defense

On June 25, 2015 the United States Supreme Court, in Johnson v. United States, held that the Federal equivalent of the Massachusetts 10G/Armed Career Criminal offense was unconstitutional based on the "residual clause" contained in 924(e)(2)(B).  In June of 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court followed in a case called Commonwealth v. Beal, which held that the Massachusetts equivalent of the federal residual clause was unconstitutional, limiting the ways that the armed career criminal statute can be applied in the future.

Conclusion

If you or someone you know has been charged with a firearms-related offense, call our office immediately to discuss the potential defenses that may be available to avoid the serious mandatory minimum sentences routinely imposed by the courts in Massachusetts in such cases.

See: G.L. c. 269, s. 10G; Johnson v. United States; Commonwealth v. Beal; 924(e)(2)(B).

Articles:
BPD Firearm/Armed Career Criminal Arrest Headed for Suppression