The Sandy Hook massacre sparked a massive nationwide debate on gun laws. In New York, this resulted in the enactment of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE Act). Under the new gun legislation, high-capacity magazines and assault weapons are banned in the state of New York. There are also many new registration requirements. Most significantly, the law dictates even longer mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes ? which are not as mandatory as they seem.
Under the NY SAFE Act, there is a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who uses or carries a loaded firearm during a violent felony or drug trafficking offense. If the gun is unloaded, the mandatory minimum sentence is 3.5 years. Further, possession of an unregistered firearm is now charged as a Class E felony, rather than a misdemeanor. Even if the firearm is registered out of state, the owner must also register the weapon within the state of New York to avoid felony charges. While this sentencing structure may seem harsh, courts do have the prerogative to reduce the punishment in the interest of justice.
In any gun-related charge, it is crucial that the defense produces mitigating factors in order to lessen a potential prison sentence. In the Bronx, prosecutors declined to seek the minimum mandatory sentence in a case where a Pennsylvania school employee traveled to New York with an unregistered firearm for a family member’s wake. The prosecutors also declined to seek the mandatory minimum when a prison guard failed to submit the required paperwork for his off-duty firearm. In these cases, the prosecutors were swayed by the individual facts of the defendant’s stories.