One round of 9mm equals 15 years in prison

From the ATF:

Steven L. Roberts, 43, of Kansas City, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple to 15 years in federal prison without parole. Roberts was sentenced as an armed career criminal due to his prior felony convictions for crimes of violence.

On Feb. 8, 2011, Roberts pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of ammunition. Roberts admitted that he was in possession of one round of 9mm ammunition. Roberts was arrested on Aug. 8, 2009, after a short foot chase by Kansas City police officers. When Roberts was searched, officers found the ammunition in his pants pocket. Officers also found a Makarov 9mm semi–automatic pistol, a small amount of methamphetamine and some marijuana when they canvassed the area through which Roberts ran.

That seems a bit harsh to me. Where is the victim?

But that’s the point isn’t it? To make gun ownership extremely risky.

11 thoughts on “One round of 9mm equals 15 years in prison

  1. I’m a state-level criminal law attorney, so don’t take this as either legal advice or as a definitive insight into federal law.

    This guy already has a felony record, and the odds are that he had a significant amount of suspended time hanging over his head from his prior convictions. It would not be unusual, at least in the state courts where I practice, for a person to receive a twenty-year sentence with five active years and fifteen suspended years. The judge has the authority to impose the entire sentence, and (again, in my state) can pretty much go back and impose it for just about any reason not based on invidious discrimination. Conditions imposed on the suspension of sentence typically include obeying the law (especially no recidivism), no possessing of contraband, and good behavior.

    Here, you have a person who, having promised to (almost certainly) obey the typical conditions I mentioned, very likely had a firearm and drugs. He was only caught with the bullet, and only admitted the bullet. However, the gun and drugs were found where they were probably dropped by the guy. So, the judge could reasonably have considered them in his determination of sentence.

    If this were some guy coming out of prison who happened to have a shotgun shell wedged under the seat of his truck from when he last went hunting ten years ago, that’d be one thing, but this sure looks like a felon with a suspended sentence who got caught with a gun and drugs.

  2. Nothing harsh about it whatsoever.

    We, the law-abiding gun-owners, build a platform upon career criminals and the fact that “criminals don’t obey laws–that’s why they’re criminals.” We raise hell for elected officials, prosecutors and judges to do their duty and punish according to the law.

    Everything went exactly as it was supposed to in this instance. A career criminal with multiple convictions got caught, once again, breaking the rules and proving once and for all that he does not belong in decent, law-abiding society.

    No problem with it at all.

    –An Ordinary American

  3. Oh, stop preening. We’ve all done something we shouldn’t, at some point and in this era of increasing regulation, often in the guise of racketeering charges and other dragnets originally laid to get drug kingpins and the like where there was insufficient evidence to convict them of something real, it has been estimated that everyone commits about 3 felonies a day. (this is the title of a book by Harvey Slilverglate that spells out the details). Basically it’s by the grace of a federal prosecutor and not attracting enough interest that we aren’t all in jail and banned from owning guns forever. “Felony” doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means, either. One famous felon is Martha Stewart, who is probably no more likely to go all Loughner on anyone than you or I.

    Finally, I’m a freedom lover first, and a gunman second. That means I believe that it is the government to leave people alone, with the important and notable exception that when one person victimizes another through violence, I believe it is important for the government to intervene, find, and mete out appropriate punishment to the perpetrator. Beyond that, I have little patience with these so-called “laws,” even though I have enough sense to try as hard as I can not to run afoul of them.

  4. I’m with Ordinary. As gun activists, we try to prevent the creep of additional anti-freedom laws, and push back where we can to roll back existing restrictions. But one of the arguments for no new laws has habitually been, “Enforce the laws already on the books!”

    Here’s a case where exactly that is being done. We can speculate all we want about what felony(ies) may have been committed in the past by this guy. But perhaps that conviction for one lonely 9mm will get a true scumbag off the streets, where no other means will do it. I’m just fine with that.

    And yeah – I’ve probably inadvertently broken a law or two. But I’ve not been convicted of a felony, and don’t intend to be. So I can carry all the “bullets” I want in my pockets.

  5. Also, I would like to make the point that self-defense is a human right. As such, convicted felons have it, too–at least, once they are out of jail (probation is a bit of a grey area here). If they are so dangerous they can never be trusted with weapons again, then they are so dangerous that they belong in jail for the rest of their lives. Knives and baseball bats can make some pretty deadly weapons, too, and you don’t need a background check to by them.

  6. I actually agree with Publius in that it would be better if anyone who couldn’t be trusted with guns was off the streets entirely until they could be trusted again. The important part is that this is not the case right now, and it doesn’t look likely to be the case anytime soon. According to the story, this guy was already a violent felon, not a paperwork tax-dodge felon. I’d like for him to be locked up until he isn’t a threat anymore, but since that isn’t possible, letting him walk around with guns and ammo sounds kinda insane.

  7. I never really understood the mindset of allowing felons out of prison, but forbidding them from firearms–especially since there are so many weapons in the world that they could simply buy in a department store! This is especially problematic–whether the felon is violent or not–if the person was also an informant who put someone else in prison, and that person now wants revenge.

    More recently, though, I’ve come to conclude that prison time and freedom are incompatible. What is it about prison that would teach you to be a free man, after you got out? Not much; indeed, many small-time criminals have the opportunity to “learn the trade” while in prison, and when they get out, we still insist on punishing them–by looking at their criminal records when trying to hire them, or deciding to rent to them, etc. This can push a former criminal back into crime.

    For this reason, I’d much rather put together a system of punishments based on recompensing the victim, or the victim’s family in the case of murder; and if someone is guilty of something serious, say murder or rape, then that person ought to be declared “outlaw”, and would then have to rely on the mercy of an “avenger of blood” who would be free to take that person’s life without fear of repercussions.

    If we were to adopt this mentality for passing laws, then we could determine (1) if things like drug use or not wearing seatbelts really are “victimless”–if they aren’t, then we would be funding the victims; and (2) if these crimes really aren’t victimless, we’d be be able to see how much damage is done to society, and whether the fines involved are sufficient. If there’s hardly no harm done, then a small fine would be sufficient to pay for “victims”; otherwise, an activity would have a HUGE fine, because the victims would have a great need for compensation.

  8. See “Who May Harm Whom” – an essay by Walter E. Williams. It comes down to rights violations. If you violated someone’s rights, you’re guilty and should be punished accordingly. You may harm someone but without violating their rights, and not be afowl of the law, or even “bad” at all, for example, if you harm a business by competing with it in the marketplace doing a better job.

    I see you all dancing around this; “right violation = crime” by saying “violence” or etc, but violence may be meted out without a rights violation.

    That’s my standard, and I suggest everyone think about it.

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