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PA Appellate Court Upholds Sentence For Straw Purchase Of Guns

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court upheld a nearly six- to 12-year sentence for a Chester woman convicted of illegally buying firearms for her felon boyfriend.

This is the first use of a Pennsylvania law that took effect in 2013 that calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for a defendant convicted of illegally buying guns for someone else, known as straw gun purchases.

In a ruling filed Dec. 8, a Superior Court panel denied the appeal of 24-year-old Staci Dawson of the 71.5- to 143-month sentence imposed a year ago by a Delaware County judge. Dawson was convicted in August 2014 of buying two handguns for her boyfriend, David Colon. The appellate court rejected Dawson’s assertion that the sentence was illegally too severe.

“It’s a very important decision (by Superior Court),” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA. She said part of the problem with straw purchasers is they have clean records.

“They could appeal to the mercy of the court. They’ve never been in trouble before, so they should have a light sentence," she said. "It didn’t give prosecutors a lot of leverage to find out who they might be trafficking guns to, selling guns to or buying guns for.”

According to court records, Dawson purchased the guns in February 2013, and they were confiscated less than a month later following a police chase. Colon, who was suspected in at least two homicides, was murdered in August of that same year.

Goodman also said that those making the gun purchases aren't always willing to say who they purchased the gun for. Goodman attributes it, in some cases, to abusive relationships. 

“If the prosecutors say to you, ‘Look, you’re facing a mandatory minimum. You’ve got to tell us who you’re buying these guns for.’ Maybe now there’s some incentive to trade some information. Maybe now women won’t be able to say, 'I’m just going to get a slap on the wrist.’ Because now they won’t.”

If Dawson had been threatened by Colon, Goodman said she doesn't know if Dawson ever filed a protection from abuse order with the court.

The mandatory minimum law was named after Brad Fox, a Plymouth Township police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty by a man using a gun purchased by someone else.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.