Drug trafficking crimes will trigger mandatory minimum sentences at both the state and federal level. Possession of a deadly weapon – like a gun – during the commission of a drug crime is considered an aggravating factor that will mean more time in prison upon conviction. Under federal law, it doesn’t matter if you actually fire the gun during a drug crime or if you aide and abet the firing of the gun, you will be punished the same if found guilty of possessing a gun during the commission of a drug offense.
But what exactly qualifies as aiding and abetting? The U.S. Supreme Court decided to weigh in on the issue when it accepted the case of Rosemond v. United States last May. Oral arguments took place in mid-November.
At issue in the case is whether an individual accused of aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm during the commission of a drug crime must be proven to have actually participated in the aiding abetting. More simply, did that person encourage another to use the weapon or otherwise facilitate the other person possessing the weapon? Or is simply knowing that a gun was used during the commission of a drug offense enough to convict and trigger the mandatory minimum sentence.
The Tenth Circuit applied a very broad definition of aiding and abetting, finding Rosemond guilty. Under federal sentencing laws, because the gun was fired during the drug offense, Rosemond was looking at another 10 years in prison. Mandatory minimums for using a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent federal offense include 5 years for gun possession, 7 years for brandishing the gun and 10 if the gun is fired. Rosemond received the 10-year mandatory sentence on the gun charge.
The jury did not determine that Rosemond was the shorter the day of the drug trafficking offense. Conflicting testimony was given about the gun and the shots fired by others participating in the trafficking conspiracy who agreed to testify against Rosemond.
No decision has yet been announced by the Court.