Ever since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, where 20 elementary school children were gunned down by a man with an apparent mental illness, authorities across the country have been on high alert – particularly when it comes to schools.
Birmingham criminal defense attorneys know that Alabama has been no different in this regard. Individuals who are suspected or arrested for any type of weapons offense or threat are going to find themselves facing severe consequences by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges who don’t want to be seen as taking anything but a hard line on gun crimes.
A recent case out of Chelsea – just 20 minutes southeast of Birmingham – shows how close to home this hits. Local news reports from Shelby County are that a man entered the middle school with a firearm and held several students there at gunpoint in the girls’ locker room. The man was apparently a former student and summer employee at the school.
A school resource officer, along with several county deputies, arrested the man and no one was injured. Now, state and federal law enforcement officers have also jumped in on the investigation.
The incident has prompted local officials to renew their commitment to keeping a sworn officer stationed at each school in the district – a promise also made by officials in Alabaster, about a half hour south of Birmingham.
Incidents like the one in Chelsea serve only to heighten officials’ desire to crack down on gun offenses – whether they happen in schools or not.
Title 13A of Alabama’s Criminal Code, Chapter 11, Article 3, Provision 1, addresses the multiple penalties that already exist for firearm offenses. Simple unlawful possession of a concealed firearm carries a maximum of six months in jail. Possible defenses, as outlined in Section 13A-11-51, include the possibility that the firearm was being used to halt an attack. This won’t completely eliminate the charge, but it may serve as a mitigating factor in deciding penalties.
The use of firearms in a public place in Alabama – except in instances of self-defense – is also punishable by up to six months in jail, assuming no one was actually hurt. In the latter scenario, one could find himself facing felony aggravated assault charges or possibly even attempted murder.
Individuals who shoot or discharge their weapon into a school bus or school building could face up to 20 years in prison (and a minimum of 2 years), regardless of whether the structure is occupied or not.
Even cases in which no actual gun is used but there is a threat to do so could result in serious penalties. Alabama Code Section 13A-10-15 defines “terrorist threats” as the threat to commit a crime of violence or property damage with the intent to recklessly or intentionally terrorize another person or disrupt school activities or to retaliate against either someone who is party to a judicial proceeding. This is considered a Class C felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
These are not situations in which one should take his chances with a public defender. Hire a criminal defense lawyer with proven experience.