Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

Woman chaced and pulled over by policeYour Rights at a Stop; 10 Defenses for Drug Charges; Mitigating Sentencing; Drug Trafficking Laws; Penatlies.

This is Part 2 of our Case Study on a recent Arizona Court of Appeals ruling involving Marijuana Trafficking charges.

If you’re just joining us, here’s a quick summary of the case: Recently, an Arizona Superior Court granted suppression of the Marijuana evidence that led to the State’s dismissal of the charges. The State promptly appealed arguing that the lower court erred in dismissing the Marijuana evidence found in the vehicle the suspect was driving.   The state argued on Appeal that the detention of the suspect for 40 minutes while awaiting the drug K-9 unit was not unreasonable.

The Appeals Court agreed, and overturned the lower court’s ruling, based on totality of the circumstances at the time.   The factors that the Appellate Court considered were the police officers extensive knowledge and experience in drug trafficking detection; prior drug crimes history of the suspect; voluntary statements made by the suspect at the time of the stop; and the suspect’s consent to search the vehicle he was driving.

In this discussion we focus on criminal rights at a stop, common defenses for drug crimes, laws, and drug trafficking penalties in Arizona.

Criminal Rights at a Police Stop

In the case study, the police used the suspect’s inconsistent statement about his destination to police which were used against him. The suspect also agreed to a search of his vehicle, which led to the discovery of the boxes of Marijuana in the trunk of his rental car.

Under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution a person is afforded protection from self-incrimination. A person has the right to remain silent upon questioning by police, except to answer routine identification or procedural question during an investigative stop. But a suspect does not have to answer questions about where they were, or where they were going at an investigative stop.

At a police stop, a person has the right remain silent, including the right to refrain from answering questions about where we are going.  A person also has the right to refuse a search of their vehicle. There are a few exceptions to this including police having a valid warrant, or what is known as exigent circumstances. A person has these rights under state and federal laws, whether the Miranda warning is read to them or not. It is critical to invoke these rights. Failure to do so may result in arrest and prosecution.

In this case, the statements offered by the suspect were seemingly innocent, and had nothing to do with the illegal drugs that were in the trunk of the vehicle.  However, the officer testified that he found the suspect’s statements “perplexing” and “confusing”, which raised the officer’s suspicions of the suspect’s potential criminal activity.

Alone, the suspect’s statements may not have been sufficient to raise suspicion of criminal involvement. But the officer took into account other factors he observed, when he decided to further detain the suspect. So the seemingly innocent statements made by the suspect, were used by police against him in this case. When this happens it constitutes a form of self-incrimination.

Under the 4th Amendment, a person is protected against unlawful search and seizures. If a person consents to the search, the officer may search their vehicle without a valid search warrant. In this case the suspect consented to a search of the vehicle. But he refused to extend his consent to the contents of an unmarked, taped box in the trunk. At this point the police requested the K-9 unit to investigate the boxes with the suspicion that the boxes contained illegal drugs. It was the original consent however of the vehicle that led the discovery of the suspicious boxes in the trunk of the vehicle.

10 Common Drug Crimes Defenses

A number of defenses can be used to challenge drug charges. Which defenses your attorney uses to challenge the charges will be heavily based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. There are also, different types of defenses that made be used pre-trial or during trial. Below is a sample of 10 defenses commonly used by experienced drug crime defense lawyers:

• Reason for the stop:
• Unlawful search and seizure rights;
• Violations of Miranda Rights;
• Unlawful detention;
• Police procedural violations;
• No probable cause for arrest;
• Other constitutional violations;
• The drugs belonged to someone else;
• Entrapment;
• The suspect was unaware that they were in possession of the drugs:

Note: It is not a valid defense for someone to be unaware of the laws in Arizona regarding the legality of Marijuana. But rather, it would be a valid defense if the accused was reasonably unaware that they possessed illegal drugs, or that the vehicle they are driving contained them.

5 Sentencing Diversion or Reduction Factors

If a person is found guilty or pleads guilty to a drug crime there are multiple factors the court takes into consideration.   The general rules are that crimes involving repeat drug convictions, and higher quantities call for the most severe of penalties under the Arizona criminal justice system.

Below are some common alternatives that can be used to reduce the severity of  penalties or help a defendant avoid incarceration:

  • Successful completion of substance abuse program, (TASC) in place of incarceration for qualified first time offenders with no criminal history;
  • Amount of illegal drugs involved was below the Statutory “Threshold Amount” or lower than the person had been originally accused of possessing;
  • No weapons were involved No other aggravated circumstances were involved;
  • No prior criminal records;
  • Felony charges reclassified to allow which serve to reduce sentencing and penalties.

Arizona Marijuana Transportation Laws

In Arizona it is unlawful to possess, use, sell, transport or distribute Marijuana, outside of the scope of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) A.R.S. 36 – Chapter 28.1 recreational use of Marijuana is not lawful in any form.

A person may be guilty of violating A.R.S. 13-3405 (A) (4) if they knowingly transport for sale, import into the state; offer to transport for sale, or import into this state; or transfer marijuana in Arizona.

Marijuana Trafficking Penalties

The penalties below apply to non-dangerous, non-violent, non-multiple, non-repetitive offenses:

If a person is found guilty of illegally transporting an amount of less than two pounds of Marijuana they will be convicted of a Class 3 felony. Penalties for this offense range from 2 years Mitigated to 8.75 years Aggravated; 3.5 Presumptive prison sentencing.

If a person is found guilty of illegally transporting a weight of two pounds, the Statutory Threshold Amount, under A.R.S. 13-3405 (C) or more of Marijuana, they will be convicted of a Class 2 felony.  Penalties for this offense range from 3 years Mitigated to 12.5 years Aggravated; 5 years Presumptive prison sentencing;  ineligible for probation.

Fines not less than $750.00 or three times the value of the marijuana whichever is greater up to $150,000 per charge per person or 1, 000,000 per charge per enterprise; other fines, fees, costs, and assessments; supervised probation or parole if eligible; Felony Criminal Record; Community Service or Restitution; Completion of Drug Rehabilitation or Substance Abuse Program; Loss of civil rights to vote and possess arms; Other penalties ordered by the court.

Felony Drug Defense Attorney

In Arizona, all Marijuana drug sales and trafficking convictions call for serious punishment. It is possible that a person convicted of drug sales or trafficking, could spend the the rest of their life in prison. If you face any felony drug charge, it is important that you consult an experienced felony drug defense attorney to discuss your options for defense.

James Novak, DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney is an experienced and highly skilled drug defense lawyer. As a former prosecutor he has a vast amount of litigation experience in drug charges. The Law Office of James Novak, PLLC  is exclusively limited to DUI, and criminal defense.  If retained, James Novak, Attorney will protect your rights, defend your charges, and work hard to resolve your case for the most favorable outcome possible.  Some outcomes may include dismissal, reduction of charges and  sentencing, avoidance of incarceration, and other mitigation in sentencing.

James Novak provides a free initial consultation for active charges, in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert,  and Scottsdale Arizona.   You can call by phone or send a contact form thought the website to get a return call to confidentially discuss your matter and defense options.


“You have the right remain silent, and refrain from answering questions about where you are going. You also have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle, in absence of a valid search warrant.  You have these rights whether they are read to you or not”. 

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 Related Articles 

Arizona Drug K-9 Unit

“Suspect’s 40 minute detention, while awaiting drug K-9 unit was not unreasonable”.

In a case decided earlier this month, an Arizona Appeals Court ruled that an officer had enough “reasonable suspicion” to detain a suspect 40 minutes while awaiting the drug K-9 unit.

The court considered the “Totality of Circumstances” or “the whole picture”, to conclude that the detention was not unreasonable.

Case Facts

The suspect was pulled over, after the police officer observed the driver swerving and traveling at varied rates of speed.

The officer approached the vehicle, and requested the driver’s license, and registration.  The driver complied as well as providing the rental car agreement.

The officer asked the driver where he was going, at which point the driver provided several answers. The officer reported that the answers were inconsistent, “confusing” and “perplexing”.   The officer reported that the responses raised the officer’s suspicions.

The officer then noticed that there were no personal belongings in the vehicle.  So he asked the driver if he was planning to stay in Phoenix AZ. The driver said no.  The fact that the suspect was not planning to stay in Phoenix, but had no personal belongings in the vehicle, elevated the officer’s suspicions of potential criminal activity in progress.

The officer decided to do a background check on the suspect. The criminal records check revealed that the suspect had an extensive history of illegal drug trafficking and manufacturing crimes in a different state.

The officer asked for the suspect’s consent to search the rental car, and the suspect consented to the search.

Upon search of the trunk, the officer discovered two cardboard shipping boxes of “very solid weight” that were unlabeled, and taped closed.  The officer asked the suspect to open the boxes, but the suspect refused.

At that point the officer requested the police department’s narcotics K-9 unit to be brought to the scene and check out the boxes. The K-unit arrived approximately 40 minutes later.

The police dog “bit one of the boxes” in the trunk, signaling to the officer that the K-9 detected drugs in the boxes. The police officer opened the boxes and found the Marijuana.  Continue reading

mountain-road-1424189-m-1Overview of the Ruling; Strategies for Defense and Prevention of Repeat DUI Arrests   

Approximately 37 million people visit Arizona each year, and 16 million of those visit the Phoenix Metro   area.   Whether they are here to vacation, attend school or sporting events, or to see the attractions our State has to offer, many will be driving.

Unfortunately, some will be arrested for impaired driving.  Suddenly, what was supposed to be a fun and enjoyable trip turns into a nightmare.

One of the most common questions a person asks after being arrested for a repeat offense, if they are visiting or a new resident to Arizona is “How will my prior DUI received in another state, impact my current DUI charges?”      

Recently, an Arizona Appeals court addressed prior DUI charges involving out-of-state DUI convictions.  The Appellate court considered whether a prior out-of-state DUI conviction would be used to reclassify charges to a felony for a third DUI conviction.

In this case  the defendant had been charged with two counts of aggravated DUI, two counts of aggravated driving with a BAC of .08 or more and aggravated assault on a peace officer.

The aggravated (felony) driving charges were based on the fact that the defendant had two or more prior DUI convictions within 84 months under A.R.S. § 28-1383.

The lower court dismissed the Felony DUI and BAC charges.  The State Prosecution appealed the dismissal of the Aggravated DUI charges. The Appeals court agreed with the State Prosecution, and reversed the dismissal of the Felony DUI charges.  Continue reading

video-camera-1412649-m.jpg A Tragic Video Confession

You might remember the viral video of an Arizona man, 22 year old Matthew Cordle, who caused a fatal drunk driving accident. He provided a confession in a four-minute online video that went viral with 2.3 million views last September.

Cordle began his chilling confession with “My name is Matthew Cordle and on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession.”

Vincent Canzani 61, was the father of two daughters, and a former USA Naval Submarine Veteran. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Immediately following the crash, Cordle was taken to the hospital for his injuries. But at that time he denied being intoxicated, driving impaired, or causing the fatal accident.

Cordle confessed in the video, that he was driving the wrong way on an interstate, and crashed into Vincent Canzani vehicle.

In the video was the blurred face of man, Cordle, admitting to barhopping, blacking out and driving home drunk. Cordle explained that he had been drinking heavily before getting behind the wheel, and blacked out just before losing control of his vehicle.

Cordle had not yet been charged at the time the video was made, but was expecting the charges to be brought based on the DUI blood test results.

Interestingly, Cordle had retained an attorney, but his attorney claimed he was not aware that his client had planned to post a video confession on the internet.

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Maricopa County Arizona DUI Task Force Van.jpg

“The best way to deal with a DUI checkpoint is to be prepared for it. Lack of preparation or knowledge of your rights can lead to a false arrest, and violations of your rights.”

A Case of False Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

One spring evening, 61 year old, Michael Wilhelm found himself in a DUI Checkpoint Line-up operated by Cape Coral Police. He was not driving impaired or under the influence of any alcohol or drugs. He asked to take a breath or blood test because instead of Field Sobriety Roadside tests (FSTs), because he was recovering from opened heart surgery. But the officers instead administered the field sobriety tests. Michael Wilhelm was arrested following the FST roadside test even before a breath test was taken. Police finally decided to do a breath test, while Wilhelm was still placed under arrest. Then while the police were preparing for the breath tests, Wilhelm began complaining of severe chest pains. He was taken to the hospital. There he requested the blood test to prove that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The hospital complied with his request. The DUI blood tests were all negative. The criminal charges were finally dismissed. He filed suit against the city and police and spent the next two years of his life in civil litigation. The case was finally settled for a meager $18,750.00 in Wilhelm’s favor. This was one of two DUI checkpoint cases for false arrests that ran concurrently against the city at that time over false arrests that took place at DUI Checkpoints.


There’s no hiding the fact that checkpoints exist to seek out impaired drivers and criminal activity that may be in progress. Yet, even though you may not be driving impaired, or engaging in a crime, being stopped at a roadblock can be not only inconvenient, but uncomfortable, and stressful. It’s natural and common for even unimpaired drivers to become anxious while in a DUI roadblock line-up. Some drivers experience a heightened sense of anxiety, and nervousness, in absence of severe medical conditions. They may fumble, or unknowingly do or say things that can often incriminate themselves. This can sometimes lead to false arrests of unimpaired drivers.

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Determining who will prosecute; Differences between Arizona, Federal laws and penalties.

m16-shadow-201674-m.jpgA Phoenix AZ man was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for charges of methamphetamine possession with intent to distribute; and prohibited possession of a firearm. The suspected was prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a prior felony conviction on his record.

In another recent case Phoenix police and federal agents from Homeland Security raided two houses and seized five pounds of meth, heroin and marijuana, 7 kilos of cocaine, and 12 weapons (rifles and handguns). The houses were within 1,000 feet of a high school. Neighbors were unaware of the criminal activity. However, four suspects were booked for narcotics possession in a drug free school zone, as well as weapons offenses.

We will refer to these illustrations to outline differences between state and federal investigations, laws, penalties, and the burden of proof held by the prosecution at both levels below.

Arizona V. Federal Laws and Prosecution

Weapons and drug trafficking charges may be brought in federal court. This exposes a person to mandatory minimum sentences. Sometimes both state and federal criminal laws apply, but often serious drug offense may be prosecuted at a Federal level. Generally, the Federal Government prosecutes the larger scale drug crimes, including drug trafficking, and offenses involving more sophisticated and organized illegal drug activity. The Federal Government generally decides if they will prosecute the drug charged in violation of The United States Code (USC) Controlled Substances Act.

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“DUI arrests for “probable cause” doesn’t mandate that the police officer show a driver was actually under the influence, only that it is probable that he was”.

1066864_police_cruiser.jpg A police officer need only have a reasonable suspicion that you have violated a traffic law (like the speed limit) or engaged in criminal activity to stop you. “Reasonable suspicion” means that there is a “particularized and objective basis” for believing somebody had violated the law. Once you are stopped, there must be probable cause to arrest you.

In a recent case, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered whether there was probable cause where the defendant was convicted of four counts of aggravated driving under the influence (aggravated DUI). The defendant had been stopped in his vehicle after a police officer visually estimated he was going fifteen miles over the speed limit. According to the police offer, he’d been trained to accurately estimate vehicle speed within five miles per hour.

Once the officer stopped the defendant, he saw the defendant had watery bloodshot eyes, spoke with slurred speech, and smelled like alcohol. The defendant couldn’t find his driver’s license and gave the officer his social security number. It turned out that he provided his wife’s social security number. When the officer learned this, he asked the defendant for his wife’s social security number. This time, the defendant gave him his own number. The officer administered a test for alcohol impairment. When the defendant refused a breathalyzer test, he was arrested.

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How to avoid additional charges, and make sure your DUI stop does not turn deadly

Recently a Mesa AZ police officer approached a vehicle and asked the driver if he had any weapons. The driver responded, affirmatively that he did in fact, have weapons in the vehicle. At that point he reached to the other side of the car and pulled a gun out of a holster from inside the vehicle. The officer apparently felt threatened, and reacted by drawing out his own sidearm. The police officer gave verbal commands for the driver to drop his weapon. The driver immediately dropped his weapon. The driver agreed to take a field sobriety test, which evidently did not go well for driver, since he was then taken to a command center to be booked for a DUI.

What went wrong that made this DUI stop potentially deadly?

Let’s take a closer look at reported events; application of the law; and tips on how to avoid criminal charges that are unrelated to driving impairment. First, there is no legal duty to voluntarily tell an officer you are carrying a gun if you are pulled over while driving in Arizona. However, you should respond affirmatively to an officer who asks. You should never pull a firearm out or at the officer or cause those to feel threatened in anyway. The driver was fortunate that the officer responded apparently with levelheadedness.

Although most attorneys discourage suspects from volunteering any information to the officer in a stop, there are others who feel there are safety benefits for the driver to volunteer to an officer that they are carrying a weapon so long as they are prohibited possessor and it is a prohibited weapon. This will avoid the police officer being taken by surprise, it in the event a search is conducted of your vehicle. Some feel too, that volunteering this information will alert a law enforcement officer that you are not doing anything wrong.

With every widely observed holiday, you’re likely you will see heightened police presence, enforcement and DUI Sobriety Checkpoints. DUI Roadblocks are set up with the intent to seek drivers for signs of intoxication or impairment, and make DUI arrests. The goal is to prevent motorists from driving impaired under the influenced of alcohol or drugs. DUI checkpoints can be considered “double edged sword” of sorts. Everyone wants impaired drivers off of the road. But if you’ve ever found yourself in a line-up waiting your turn through the checkpoint, you know it’s no fun. Whether you are driving impaired or not, it’s completely normal to feel a little nervous or anxious.

Most people sort of look around to make sure there is nothing in their vehicle that would give rise to the suspicion that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Arizona, you should know that when the officer stops you at a DUI checkpoint, arrests can be made for violations of other crimes too, not just impaired driving.
In absence of a formal DUI safety checkpoint, a police officer needs a “reasonable suspicion” that a violation of the law or crime has occurred or is in progress to stop a driver and conduct a DUI investigation. However, DUI checkpoints bypass this usual step. Not all states have laws authorizing use of DUI checkpoints, but in Arizona their use is becoming more prevalent.

Always, (one more time) “always”, keep both hands on the wheel while you are talking to the officer. The exception to this, is if he instructs you to show him your license which requires you to take your hands on the wheel; or otherwise. Talk to the officer as calmly as possible, and when you must take your hands off the wheel to reach for your driver’s license and registration, do so calmly as well.

Like the situation in Mesa described above, an officer who sees you reach into an area of the car he can’t see may think that you are about to shoot. You do not have to reach for anything to extend a verbal affirmative or negative response.
If an officer who pulls you over for suspected DUI asks for your driver’s license, you need to show your driver’s license to him. Otherwise you may give the officer probable cause to conduct a further search and seizure. If the officer asks to search your car, you should say that you do not consent to a search. However, if the officer searches anyway, you must cooperate and you cannot put up any sort of resistance.

Field Sobriety Tests are not mandatory in Arizona. They are simply tools for Police to conduct roadside DUI screening and due to their unreliability may result in false conclusions. You can politely and lawfully refuse to participate in a field sobriety test. You should let the officer know that your reason for refusal is that you understand it is not mandatory by law, and it is your understanding that field sobriety tests are often unreliable and could give false impressions that a person is impaired when in fact they are not. You should be aware that refusing to submit to a field sobriety test may be cause for arrest or further detainment. You can and should refuse to answer questions based on your rights under the Constitution and request to speak with an attorney.

Arizona is an implied consent state. What does this mean to drivers? It means that there are civil penalties through the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) for refusal. If a driver refuses to take a breath or blood test to determine your BAC, your license may be revoked or suspended, whether they are were driving impaired or not; or convicted of the charges or not. All a refusal of a DUI breath or blood test costs you is a suspension of your driver’s license for one year. But the choice of course is ultimately yours.

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Robberies need not be as epic as Bonnie and Clyde’s to be some of the most serious crimes under law.

makin-change-680711-m.jpgWhen I heard this story on the local news about “Bonnie and Clyde” style robbery suspects being arrested in Arizona, I stopped to reflect upon an image of “Bonnie and Clyde’s” get-away car I had seen several years ago, on display in Nevada.

Bonnie and Clyde, the historical crime duo, were killed in their get-away car which had been riddled with over 100 bullets in 1934. Because of their violent cross country crime spree, they were considered highly dangerous. So authorities decided to capture them dead instead of alive.

As I studied the bullet riddled car, and some shredded and tattered clothing they had been wearing at the time of their death, I felt this overwhelming sense of terror and sadness. It was an eerie. I was saddened by the thought that in some way people looked at the vehicle and other related items as trophies, and as for Bonnie and Clyde themselves, they were remembered as icons.

But why? I suppose it was the “One person’s villain is another person’s hero” syndrome. As I looked around the room, I saw newspaper clipping, stories, and photos framed from 1932 to 1934. They followed events of the cross-country crime spree, and violence. Finally, the last photo I noted was taken immediately following Bonnie and Clyde’s death, taken of them as they lay lifeless by the vehicle. It was difficult to look at.

No, these were no trophies. There were no heroes. These were symbols of tragedy, and consequences of crimes that to this day, have not ceased to exist.

At the same time, I saw a failed criminal justice system…”Wanted dead or alive” is how the posters read. Regardless of how serious or violent the crime they were entitled to a fair trial by jury, under the United States Constitution. Whether they deserved a fair trial or not, was irrelevant.
Robberies need not be as epic or dramatic as those committed by Bonnie and Clyde to be considered some of the most serious crimes under law. Robbery convictions in Arizona and call for the serious penalties with life long penalties. If a gun or deadly weapon is possessed, even if it is not used, it is charged as “Armed Robbery” in violation of A.R.S. 13 § 1904. Armed Robbery is a Class 2 felony, the most severe, just short of Class 1 felonies that are reserved for the most serious of crimes, homicide. Aggravated criminal penalties can result in life in prison.

Robberies were committed at businesses in the Phoenix metropolitan area, 5 of them in Gilbert, 3 in Mesa and 2 in Chandler. A thirty-year-old male and his twenty-seven year old wife were arrested and accused of working as a team to rob businesses. The husband had lost his job, the unemployment check hadn’t arrived, and they had four minor boys to feed.

In order to commit the robberies, the husband would stand in line like a prospective customer and then, once he reached the front of the line, grab money out of the register. His wife would wait in the van with their four sons.

Under A.R.S. §13-1902, “robbery” is defined as taking property from another’s body or immediate presence and against their will, where the defendant threatens or uses force against them in order to coerce the person to release the property. Robbery is more serious than theft because it involves violence or the threat of violence.

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Burglary of firearms of any value is a felony in Arizona; depending on the value and other aggravated circumstances, convictions can result in lifetime prison sentences..


Like something out of the Hollywood movies like “Ocean’s 13″ or “Gone in 60 Seconds”, recently three thieves stole 13 military style rifles from C-3 Arms, a gun shop in Phoenix.

The burglary was videotaped with surveillance cameras, but the thieves were wearing bandanas and tee shirts over their faces. The three men got the front doors open, cut a security cable and removed the rifles worth about $12,000 from the store. There was additional damage to other guns worth about $12,000. The trio drove away in a white Chevy pickup.

The owner of the gun store was surprised that it took only 2 minutes for the burglars to break into the strict security system. Each gun had a serial number etched onto it. The public is being asked for tips and there is a $6000 reward for capturing the thieves and the stolen guns. The police believe the stolen guns will be used in future crimes.

If caught, the thieves will probably be charged with burglary and theft. In Arizona, criminal burglary is entering or remaining inside a building without the owner’s authorization, dwelling or fenced lot with the intent to commit a crime. Theft of items worth less than $1000 is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, theft of guns are charged as felonies regardless of the value of the guns, and in this case, because the guns were valuable, the charges and potential sentencing will be more severe.

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