How Do Police Trace An Illegal Gun Purchase?

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Tracing a gun to a purchaser is not always a simple matter. When someone is shot, investigating officers often track a suspect by looking at the gun used. Ballistic evidence can often help determine if a specific gun was used in the shooting, but that only helps if they have the gun to test.

If they do have the gun, however, that is not the only thing they may look into. They may also try to figure out where the gun came from, whether it was purchased legally and who sold it to the suspect. A recent story regarding the killing of a police officer in Champaign highlights how law enforcement can track a gun’s path from the purchaser to user.

A Straw Purchase That Results In A Homicide

Darion Lafayette shot and killed Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim before another officer shot and killed Lafayette. At the scene, police recovered Lafayette’s Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, a Glock magazine and eight cartridge casings, as well as Lafayette’s cellphone. They knew almost right away that the gun came from a store in Indiana, but how did it get to Lafayette, a convicted felon who could not legally own a firearm?

Authorities state that a straw purchase is common in these situations. Someone with no criminal record will purchase the gun, then sell it illegally to the convicted felon. This is known as a straw man (or woman) purchase because the person buying from the store is just a false front for the person receiving the weapon. Female relatives or girlfriends will often play this role. Unfortunately, it can come back to haunt them.

Using Phone Records To Track Movements

In Lafayette’s case, the police were able to use his phone to figure out that the two women involved in purchasing his gun and passing it along to him were Regina Lewis and Ashantae Corruthers. The phone contained many text messages between Lafayette, Lewis and Corruthers, which tracked the steps taken by Corruthers to make the purchase and transfer the weapon to Lafayette.

Although Lafayette died at the scene, police pursued charges against Lewis and Corruthers for their roles in the death of the police officer. Both women tried to cover their tracks and denied any knowledge of how Lafayette got ahold of the gun. Corruthers eventually reported the gun stolen, but the text messages told a different story. The women were indicted on October 4, 2022, on federal charges. They could receive up to five years for the illegal purchase and transfer of a firearm to a felon and up to 20 years for conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct in the ensuing investigation. Had the case been charged a different way, the penalties could also vary.

Illinois Gun Charges

In Illinois, you can face several types of criminal offenses for owning or carrying a gun or other weapon. Felon in possession of a firearm, commonly referred to as aggravated unlawful use of a weapon or “U.U.W.” is just one of them. You can also face aggravated charges for using a weapon while committing another crime, like robbery or assault. If you possess a firearm in furtherance of certain federal crimes you can face an additional mandatory five year prison sentence on top of the sentence for the underlying crime. Or a mandatory 7 year consecutive sentence if the firearm was brandished (displayed). Or even a 10 year consecutive sentence if the firearm was discharged. There are other firearm related offenses that carry consecutive 30 year sentences.  As the above story shows, the federal government will often become involved in gun-related crimes, many of which are serious felonies with severe penalties.

That does not mean you have no options for a defense; just because you did it doesn’t mean you are guilty. Or that the evidence is admissible in court. For example, Attorney Darryl A. Goldberg represented a client in the case of the United States vs. CM where CM was arrested on drug and weapons charges. Surveillance footage showed CM in possession of both the gun and marijuana, but Mr. Goldberg was able to challenge the evidence and the arrest on the grounds that officers violated CM’s constitutional rights. Eventually, prosecutors dismissed the charges.


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