Federal Gun Violations Felon Released Early

Johnathon Irish

On July 7, Johnathon Irish, of Littleton, N.H., was sentenced to two years in federal prison for a second gun possession violation.

Less than two months later, he was released.

Irish, 34, was let go by a federal judge for time already served before his formal sentencing.

Now police in Littleton are inquiring about the conditions of his release and where he is currently living, noting what they said are past encounters with Irish for domestic-related complaints, complaints from the school district, and a volatile family situation when he’s around.

“I can certainly say that the court has the right to make the sentence what they want, but based on this individual’s previous conviction, it seems a little bit lower than expected,” Littleton Police Chief Paul Smith said Thursday. “We were surprised by the sentence that was handed down.”

Following a four-day jury trial in February 2020, Irish, 34, was convicted of one count of being a felon in possession of firearms, after evidence was presented to a jury that showed him in possession of at least two guns, a 12-gauge shotgun and .45-caliber pistol, between December 2018 and November 2019.

The conviction comes after Irish made a plea of guilty to a previous firearms offense in 2014, after he was found to have made a false statement in connection to acquiring a gun and a false statement to an FBI agent to whom he had sold several assault rifles the year before.

In the 2014 case, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and legally prohibited from possessing firearms.

On July 8, John Farley, acting U.S. attorney for the District of New Hampshire, and Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, issued a joint press release regarding Irish’s sentencing to 24 months in federal prison for the 2020 conviction, stating that gun violations are serious, Irish was previously guilty of a firearms offense, and it’s vital to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

Under the federal statute, Irish faced a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Federal prosecutors initially recommended a sentence of 77 months, or 6 1/2 years, in federal prison.

Judge Landya McCafferty handed down a sentence of 24 months.

Irish, who was arrested in 2019 on a warrant, served 20 months of his sentence before his release on Sept. 1.

On Friday, Farley said that for his office it was not unexpected that Irish would be released so soon after his sentencing.

“Ordinarily, when someone is sentenced to a term of incarceration they get credit for time served in custody before they’re sentenced,” he said. “He had been in custody since December 2019, and since that time, and under the federal Bureau of Prison rules, prisoners can earn a good time credit that can subtract a period of time off of their sentence … As always, we respect the judge’s decision. We had certainly advocated for a much higher sentence, but the judge disagreed and imposed the two-year sentence.”

In the federal system, Farley said sentencing is generally, at least at the outset, viewed through sentencing guidelines, a somewhat complicated system that looks at the nature of the offense and defendant’s criminal history.

“Then there is a kind of grid that you look at and that gives a suggested sentence that would be imposed,” he said. “In the vast majority of cases, the sentencing guideline calculation is going to be lower than the statutory maximum. Even though the statute allows for 10 years, the guidelines will often recommend a range that is below that. Then the judge has the discretion to either go above or below what the guidelines suggest. In typical federal practice, you don’t tend to see sentences at that statutory maximum in many cases.”

Although Irish is no longer in custody, he is on supervised release per federal Bureau of Prison rules, said Farley.

“In this case, he’s under three years of supervised release,” he said. “It’s somewhat similar to parole, but not exactly the same. What it means is if he violates the conditions of his release, if he commits another crime after he is released from custody, he can go right back before the judge, and if the judge finds there was a violation of those conditions, the judge can put him back in prison and will impose another period of incarceration.”

Irish, who was represented by attorney Richard Guerriero, of the Lothstein Guerriero law firm in Keene, is under both standard and special conditions.

Special conditions of his supervised release include submitting to a collection of his DNA, participating in both a mental health treatment program and substance abuse treatment program, not possessing any controlled substances without a prescription, submitting to any reasonable suspicion searches by federal probation officers of his person, vehicle, digital devices and residence, and not possessing any firearms.

He is also required to forfeit the two guns in his 2020 federal case.

“We certainly are interested in protecting the public from potential crimes and enforcing federal laws with respect to firearms, and that is certainly why we brought this case, because he had violated federal law, and the jury obviously agreed,” said Farley. “But sentencing is in the hands of the judge.”

Before his federal guns conviction, Irish was well known to Littleton police, who had responded to numerous calls for service at his residence and were made aware of his 2014 gun case when he moved to town several years ago.

In Littleton, police had incidents they had looked into.

“There have been statements alleged to have been made by Mr. Irish in the past that we’ve investigated,” said Smith.

Because Irish’s family lives in Littleton, and knowing the possible volatility of the situation, Smith said he has reached out to federal authorities to gain information about Irish’s federal supervision.

Irish’s most recent case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from New Hampshire State Police and Littleton police, who were advised by federal agents to be on the lookout for signs of unlawful gun possession.

“The investigators in the case worked very closely with the Littleton Police Department, which assisted them,” said Smith. “It was a good partnership to bring the case to fruition, to bring it to court and to a conviction … We will work very closely with federal supervision to ensure public safety.”

After his 2020 conviction, federal court records show that Irish filed a motion for a new trial.

The judge denied that motion in August 2020.

In 2016, following his 2014 guilty plea for making false statements in regard to acquiring firearms, Irish filed an unsuccessful motion asking the judge to set aside that plea and sentence, arguing that his plea was obtained in violation of his right to effective legal counsel.

In the 2014 case, federal prosecutors said Irish lied to an FBI agent while he was being interviewed in February 2013 about his personal firearms and had instructed another person that September to buy a firearm for him and to lie on the purchase form to circumvent the required background check.

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