An Indictment That Doesn’t Add Up

M16 Disconnecter via[Fair Use]The recent indictment of Brian Thomas Platt, a federally-registered firearms manufacturer, makes me wonder whether there is so little crime in Maryland that prosecutors have the time to indict an individual for exporting a handful of rifle parts without a license, particularly where at least one of the exports arguably qualified for the license exemption for exports of firearms parts with a wholesale value less than $100. Worse the indictment doesnt even allege the required element of scienter in an Arms Export Control Actprosecution, namely that the defendant knew that the exports were in violation of law. The absence of a scienter allegation is significant given that the case is likely to turn on the wholesale value of the parts exported, another crucial fact left out of the oddly and amateurishly drafted indictment.

Three exports are at issue. The second involved M-16 parts: three selectors, disconnectors, auto sear assemblies and hammers. The Brownells site gives the retail value of the items as $32.37for the selectors, $17.97 for the disconnectors (pictured above), $29.97 for the sear assemblies and $66.90 for the hammers. Thats $147.21 retail. It is not unreasonable to assume that the wholesale price of these items is under $100, and the exemption insection 123.17(a) of the ITAR is for exports wherethe wholesale price is $100 or less.

The remaining exports include one rifle barrel (which is not covered by the exemption in section 123.17) and another export of two Uzi tops and a trigger assembly, also with an apparent value that may well be under the $100 limit. And, of course, the indictment doesnt bother to allege the value of the shipments or that Platt knew that the parts exceeded the $100 value or that he knew that the exports were illegal. Indeed, given that licenses probably could have been easily obtained for these parts, given the low value (and profits involved) forthese parts, and given Platts status as a licensed firearm manufacturers, it seems highly unlikely that he knew these exports were illegal.

This appears to be a classic case for a civil penalty. No knowledge or scienter is required for a civil penalty. If Platt was mistaken about the value of the parts, he could still suffer a significant fine. Here, however, for a handful of cheap rifle parts that may or may not have required a license, the prosecutors want to send Platt to jail for 60years and, in the now inevitable forfeiture allegations, take away his house too. What a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money and prosecutorial resources.

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Copyright 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.

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Its not directly relevant to this case, but I thought BTP Arms sounded familiar. They were one of the companies sued over the Aurora theater shooting, because Holmes bought tear gas grenades from BTP.