Sentence Enhancement Unreasonable In US v. Shields Where Possessing A Gun Was Not Connected To Drug Use

A recent case from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals evaluated the effect of firearms in connection with drug possession. In United States v. Shields, the Sixth Circuit found in favor of the defendants, determining that the lower court had erroneously imposed a too long sentence and found that the sentence enhancement was unreasonable.

Weapons charges are serious. In Michigan, when a crime is committed while a defendant is in possession of a firearm sentencing guidelines call for a mandatory two-year prison sentence. This sentence will be added to penalties associated with an underlying crime. If you face weapons charges, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Michigan, such as a top weapons charge attorney.

In Shields, the defendant was arrested for allegedly possessing a firearm in connection with drug possession. Here, police officers found Kevin Shields in possession of a nine-millimeter handgun. As a police officer was walking Shields to the patrol car, Shields stated that he needed his wallet, which was on the porch. When the police officer went to the porch to grab the wallet, he also found a small amount of pot near where Shields had been sitting. This amount constituted only a small, consumption-level amount of marijuana plus cocaine residue. While marijuana possession in small amount is generally considered a misdemeanor, here the drug possession was considered a felony because Shields had prior drug convictions.

Although the prosecution sought a sentence enhancement for “weapons possession in connection with a felony” the appellate court determined that an enhancement based on weapons charges was not reasonable in this case. No “sufficient nexus” existed between the firearm and the drug possession. A sentence enhancement is available where “a firearm is possessed” in connection with “another felony … if the firearm facilitated, or had the potential of facilitating another felony offense.” As explained in the case, an example of this would be where a defendant uses a firearm to protect the drug, facilitate a drug transaction, or embolden himself while participating in felonious conduct.”


Here, the weapons possession and drug possession appeared unrelated. The court reasoned, “Because the street value of the drugs Shields possessed was negligible, the application of the sentencing enhancement was not appropriate in this case. We put forth no bright-line rule for what amount of controlled substances would permit [sentence enhancement] … with a drug possession offense, but simply reject its application …with the small amount of drugs Shields possessed here.”

If you have been charged with drug possession or weapons possessions, or any Michigan crime, it is important to fight back. It is important to remember that your defense doesn’t end at sentencing. It many situations it may be possible to appeal an unfair sentence or conviction.

For more information or if you have been arrested or charged with any Michigan criminal offense, contact an aggressive Michigan criminal appeals attorney at Grabel & Associates for a free, initial consultation.

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