Entertainer Lil Wayne faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced next month after pleading guilty federal gun firearm charges. The Tampa Bay Times reports the 38-year-old rapper admitted during a virtual hearing in a Miami federal court to illegally carrying a gold-plated .45-caliber Glock and ammunition as a felon while traveling on a private jet last year.
Whether he’ll actually receive 10 years is speculation at this point, though our Fort Lauderdale gun possession defense lawyers suspect that his taking responsibility (under the careful advise of his defense attorney) may result in a lighter penalty. On the other hand, he’s already been convicted of a previous gun possession crime, so the judge may not be feeling charitable.
According to the Times, the artist was arrested in December 2019 after Miami police officers and federal agents, acting on an anonymous tip, searched the jet Wayne had been traveling on and found the firearm (which Lil Wayne explained had been a Father’s Day gift), as well as ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, painkillers, prescription-strength cough syrup (i.e., “Purple Drank”) and tens of thousands of dollars in cash. He was not arrested on drug charges, nor was he accused of using or brandishing the gun in any way. The problem was a prior felony conviction that renders his possession of it unlawful. It doesn’t help that in the interim, he has also previously pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.
At the most recent hearing at which Lil Wayne pleaded guilty, his attorney explained to the judge that had the case gone to trial, he would have pursued a motion to suppress evidence of the weapon based on what he called an illegal search by investigators. Instead, he said, his client chose to “own up” to the possession. Authorities insisted they had a search warrant.
As our gun possession defense attorneys can explain, this is a risky strategy, but it might be advantageous in certain cases. It’s a decision that should only be made after very carefully considering all legal options with your attorney.
Federal vs. State Gun Charges
As noted in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. But there are exceptions. And as noted in the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, although the right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and the lawful authority of the state shall not be infringed, the manner of bearing arms may be regulated by the state.
Some of the ways in which firearm possession is regulated by the state include:
- Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. It’s illegal for convicted felons to possess firearms in Florida. That means you cannot have a gun in your actual possession, but you also can’t be constructively in possession, meaning have it in your home or vehicle. To do so is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of three years. Repeat or aggravated offenses can result in prison sentences of up to 15 years and fines of up to $10,000.
- Possession or discharge of a weapon at a school-sponsored event. This carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and five years of probation. Given the spate of school shootings in Florida in recent years, state prosecutors are likely to ask for the maximum in these cases.
- Carrying a concealed firearm without a license. This too is a third-degree felony for which the maximum penalty is five years in prison, five years of probation and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Improper exhibition of a firearm. If you are convicted of carelessly, recklessly or in a threatening manner displaying or handling your gun in public, you face a first-degree misdemeanor charge, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, one year of probation and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Allowing a minor under 16 to access a loaded firearm. This is a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
State laws are usually applicable to gun crimes that occur in Florida. Federal authorities typically get involved if the firearm in question crossed state lines (as it did in Wayne’s case, given that he was on a private jet).
18 USC § 922(g) & (n) prohibit possession of firearm or ammunition by felons (or those awaiting trial on felony charges), drug users/addicts, illegal immigrants, those subject to domestic restraining orders, those previously convicted of domestic assault, fugitives from justice or those dishonorably charged from the military. Violation of this statute is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, though a 15-year-sentence without parole may be imposed if the offender has three or more prior convictions for violent felony crimes or drug trafficking offenses.
Defending Against Gun Possession Charges
Although there is an argument to be made that convicted felons shouldn’t morally lose their right to bear arms in the first place, that’s not likely to fly when you’re facing charges.
Aggressive defense of these charges may encourage the federal prosecutor or state attorney to plea bargain to a lesser offense – or possibly dissuade prosecutors from bringing the charges altogether in the first place. This begins by doggedly pursuing a motion to suppress and meticulously analyzing every shred of evidence.
If you are accused of unlawful possession of a firearm in South Florida, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys can help answer your question and assist you in fighting the charges and advocating on your behalf for the most favorable outcome.