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Machine Gun Minimum: D.C. Circuit Takes On Automatic Weapons

By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on January 31, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Commit a bank robbery, and you'll probably go to jail. Commit a bank robbery with an AK-47, and you'll probably go to jail for the rest of your natural life. But is that fair if you didn't know it was an automatic weapon?

The full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals took on the issue of the mandatory minimum sentence for using an automatic weapon by agreeing to a rare full-court hearing of the case of bank robber Bryan Burwell. Oral arguments in the case were heard on Monday.

In its three-judge panel decision of the case, the D.C. Circuit described Burwell and his accomplices as modern-day bank robbers with old-school tactics “more reminiscent of the brashness of John Dillinger than the subtlety of Willie Sutton,” such as “subduing innocent bystanders with gratuitous gunplay, pistol whipping a victim, and peppering a pursuing police car with bullets.”

Burwell was given a 495-month sentence for his role in the 2004 bank robberies, a majority of which stemmed from the 30-year, mandatory minimum sentence for his use of an AK-47.

Burwell appealed his sentence, arguing that the government failed to prove that he knew the gun was capable of firing automatically. The D.C. Circuit affirmed his conviction, however, stating that knowledge is not required in order to sustain the conviction.

“Congress intended the mens rea requirement to attach only to the fact of firearm use, not to the fact the firearm had the characteristics of a machinegun,” the panel wrote.

The D.C. Circuit has not yet released its opinion in the case, so how do you think the D.C. Circuit will rule? Will a full court overturn the three-judge panel and require the government to prove that the defendant knew the firearm he possessed during a violent crime was an automatic weapon? Or do you think Bryan Burwell’s sentence will be upheld?

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