Philadelphia District Attorney Is Checking the Facebook Pages of Defendants and Victims – Straw Purchaser of Guns Faces Charges

As we reported in earlier blogs, Philadelphia and the surrounding counties have been stepping up prosecutions of gun crimes including the illegal transfer of firearms from one person to another know as "straw purchases" by people referred to as "straw purchasers."

The authorities, particularly the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, have been thinking “outside the box” when it comes to seeking bigger sentences for those accused of illegally possessing guns and firearms. First, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has created a specialized unit to handle and prosecute these types of crimes. The unit consists of veteran prosecutors and detectives and is known as the GunStat Initiative. (You can read our blogs about that Program here). GunStat investigators and prosecutors targets individual offenders and specific areas of the city. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that “Police keep close watch on the offenders and stop them for even the most minor offense, such as spitting on the sidewalk, so they can pat them down.”

Now the DA and the GunStat Unit is not only watching suspects when they are on the City’s streets, they are checking up on their Facebook pages. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today about a recent case against several people from Philadelphia involved in the straw purchase of guns. A Philadelphia gun seller reported suspicious activity to the authorities last year. As a result, a young woman was arrested and charged with buying guns legally, but then giving them to others illegally. When police arrested the woman, she made a statement to police. One of her relatives named Ruiz got a copy of the statement and gave it to another man named Henriquez. Henriquez put the statement on his Facebook page. The police arrested Ruiz and charged him with gun offenses; bail was set at $150,000. The police also arrested Henriquez and charged him with witness intimidation; his bail was set at $250,000.

Obtaining evidence from social media sites is a tactic that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has been employing more and more often. Recently, the DA’s Office charged a man with perjuryafter he had been shot repeatedly. In that case, the crime victim became a criminal defendant after the DA found something he did not like on the shooting victim’s Facebook page.

There are a few important points that can be taken away from these cases. First, be careful what you post online because the government is watching. Secondly, all people involved in a straw purchase of guns can, and often will, be arrested and prosecuted. In Philadelphia, local law defines a Straw Purchaser as "Any person who conducts or attempts to conduct a gun purchase on behalf of another person." The person who buys the gun is called the purchaser in the statute. The person who receives the gun from the purchaser is known as the transferee. It does not matter which side of the transaction a person is on - they can be charged with violating the straw purchaser law. Recent amendments to the law now call for mandatory jail sentences of 5 years for repeat offenders. The new penalty is known as the "Brad Fox Law." It was named in honor of the police officer and father who was recently killed in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

Michael Parkinson, Timothy Tarpey, and James Lloyd are defense attorneys and former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorneys with who have have handled more than a thousand cases in which people have been charged with gun and firearm offenses. If you or someone you know has questions regarding gun crimes or or the use of evidence from a social media site like Facebook, youtube, twitter, or MySpace in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, or Delaware Counties, contact us for a free consultation with an experienced attorney at (215) 352-3432.

With more than 40 year of experience, our lawyers have extensive knowledge of how to defend these specific types cases so that your freedom is protected. For example, our attorneys can win a case by seeking suppression of evidence based on violations of an accused’s constitutional rights. The evidence could be a gun, a statement to police, or evidence recovered from websites. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers have litigated hundreds of motions to suppress evidence.