Marine veteran Andrew Tahmooressi’s legal problems might not end in Mexico.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said recently that they expect Mexican authorities will release Tahmooressi in the near future. But American legal experts now say the former sergeant could face more charges once he returns to California for allegedly traveling through the state with loaded weapons in his vehicle.
Mexican authorities have accused Tahmooressi of crossing the border at San Ysidro from California on March 31 with firearms that are illegal there, outside of the military. The weapons he is accused of transporting, according to a statement from Mexico’s attorney general’s office, include: a .45 caliber pistol; a 5.56mm AR-15 rifle; and a 12-gauge shotgun — all of which authorities said were loaded. He was also accused of transporting additional magazines for each firearm.
“If he’s driving around with multiple loaded weapons in a car, that would be a problem under California law,” said John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University who has studied gun laws.
Donohue said Tahmooressi “very likely” violated California’s restriction on AR-15-style rifles. Those types of firearm are legal only if they are registered, according to the state attorney general’s office. The registration deadline, however, was in 2001 — Tahmooressi moved to California from Florida in 2014.
Either the district attorney in San Diego County or the California Attorney General could level the charges, lawyers said.
Tahmooressi’s lawyer in the U.S., Philip Dunn, said there’s no evidence that his client committed a crime in California that would hold up in court. He said one could reasonably believe that he crossed the border with the guns in his truck before they were immediately discovered by Mexican officials, but there’s no hard evidence to show that he possessed the guns in California in an illegal way.
“I think that someone could surmise that [he had the weapons in California], but that doesn’t mean that it was illegal the way he had them in California,” Dunn told Marine Corps Times.
In a 911 call made just before he was arrested, though, Tahmooressi tells an operator that he had the firearms in his vehicle when he crossed into Mexico, which he claims he reached after taking a wrong turn in the dark.
“I crossed the border by accident and there are guns in my truck,” he states in the recording of the emergency call.
Tahmooressi also mentions crossing the border with the guns in a letter he wrote to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
Tahmooressi’s defense in Mexico, according to his legal team, is that the Marine vet didn’t intend to bring the weapons into Mexico and therefore committed no crime in that country. Still, he admits to having the weapons, which Donohue said could prove problematic when he returns stateside.
“His defense admits the California crime,” he said.
Those statements could end up being used in an American court even though they were made in another country, Donohue added. Generally, statements by the criminally accused are always admissible in another country, unless they were obtained unconstitutionally, he said.
Adam Winkler, a criminal law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, agreed. In typical cases, he said charges are unlikely. But the high-profile nature of the case could increase the chance that charges are filed in California, he added.
Dunn declined to address whether Tahmooressi had an AR-15 or any other weapons registered with the state of California. He said he wasn’t sure what sort of weapons his client was carrying.
“I’m not going to get into the details,” Dunn said.
He said in order for Tahmooressi to face charges in California, state authorities there would had to have caught his client in the act of transporting weapons. Prosecutors would need to confiscate them, and he said he doesn’t believe Mexican authorities would turn them over to California to assist in a prosecution.
“The point is that they don’t have the weapons and he was never stopped in California with the firearms in his car, therefore they cannot prosecute him,” Dunn said.
It’s not uncommon for people to get tripped up by changes in gun laws when they move from one jurisdiction to the next, particularly when they travel from states with fewer restrictions on firearms, to those with more regulations, Donohue said.
“The [National Rifle Association] forces want to make it seem that carrying a loaded gun around is as natural as eating breakfast,” he said. “As a result of that there are people — particularly from the states that push this very strongly — [who] are getting caught up.”