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Machine gun possession charge nets North Little Rock man 2-year prison sentence

Judge concerned if time sufficient by Dale Ellis | September 19, 2023 at 4:08 a.m.

A North Little Rock man indicted on a federal charge of possessing a converted machine gun that was found during a traffic stop was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday by a judge who questioned if that was a sufficient sentence but said he would not go higher because the government had not asked him to.

Willie Smith, 23, was arrested Aug. 30, 2021, in North Little Rock after the vehicle he was riding in was stopped for a traffic violation and police discovered under the front passenger seat a Glock Model 19 9mm handgun fitted with a "Glock switch" that enabled the pistol to operate as a fully automatic firearm. He pleaded guilty to one count of machine gun possession before U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky on May 31 and was facing a potential 10-year maximum prison sentence.

Smith has being held in federal custody since April 25 when he tested presumptively positive for marijuana use prior to a plea hearing that had been scheduled earlier.

On Monday, Smith was escorted into the courtroom by U.S. marshals and seated with his attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Latrece Gray, who asked Rudofsky for a downward variance from Smith's guideline sentencing range of 18 to 24 months in prison to a sentence of 1 year and 1 day. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Eldridge said the government was requesting a high-end guideline sentence of 24 months in prison.

Gray argued that Smith's offense was not a violent one, saying when the vehicle he was in was pulled over, the pistol was underneath the passenger seat and that he did not resist at the time of his arrest.

"Mr. Smith has been incarcerated since April," Gray said. "Part of the issue is his continued marijuana use. This time he has spent incarcerated has given him time to think."

Gray said just the stigma of a federal conviction would likely be an impediment for Smith.

"Unless the law changes or he gets a presidential pardon he has to carry that felony conviction with him for the rest of his life," she said. "Presumably, if things go right, he's got a lot of time in front of him but he's still going to have to carry that felony conviction."

Gray said that Smith's father had deserted him years before and was not a part of his upbringing.

"Once his father found out he wasn't going to be a professional football player," she said, "he kind of fell by the wayside."

"Why is it wrong to think if there's a Glock switch on your gun that the intent is to hurt someone?" Rudofsky asked. "What's the other reason to have a Glock switch on your gun?"

"It's the in thing," Gray replied. "Unfortunately, that's where we are as a society ... While it's true they can be used to hurt someone they can also be used for self-defense."

Smith's mother, Shamiika Mitchell, told Rudofsky that her son had always been quiet and stayed out of trouble until the family moved from Indiana to Arkansas.

"I think he needed to find out who he was because he really wasn't sure," she said. "He went left but he understands he did wrong, ... I'm going to do whatever I have to do to save my son. Is this going to happen again a year from now? I don't think so. ... This has shook Willie up and I don't think he'll be in trouble any more."

Eldridge said even though the gun was under the seat and Smith wasn't holding it, the fact that it had a 30-round magazine with 26 rounds loaded and one in the chamber was problematic.

"When dealing with Glock switches, one round in the chamber might as well be 20 rounds in the chamber," she said. "All it takes is one pull of the trigger to release a firestorm of bullets."

Observing that most guns kept for self-defense are loaded, Rudofsky asked why that, in and of itself, justified a high-end guideline sentence.

"The fact that there was a round in the chamber means it was ready to fire," Eldridge said.

At that, Rudofsky asked Eldridge why she had not asked for an upward variance, especially considering the proliferation of guns and conversion switches on the streets. Eldridge said the fact that Smith had not been in significant trouble previously made the 24-month sentence appropriate and said that, "generally speaking, when someone has zero criminal history ... two years is a big deal."

"I don't really understand why we're so wedded to the guidelines," he said. "In terms of what we're doing for society, [two years is] nothing."

Disagreeing, Eldridge pointed out that her office has been aggressively prosecuting gun crimes for some time but said each case had to be looked at individually and decisions made from there on how much punishment should be sought.

"We're making very big efforts to crack down on these cases federally," she said. "We're seeking harsh punishment where we think it's appropriate."

"I'm not going to go above 24 months because the government hasn't asked for it," Rudofsky said to Smith. "I think they're wrong but I'm not going to push above it."

In addition to the two-year prison sentence, Rudofsky ordered Smith to serve three years on supervised release after he leaves prison.

Print Headline: Man gets 2 years on gun count


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