Thursday, September 7, 2023

AutoKey Card Case Results in Five-Year Federal Prison Sentences for Matthew Hoover and Kristopher Justin Ervin

In a landmark case related to the AutoKey Card, Judge Marcia Morales Howard sentenced Matthew Hoover, associated with CRS Firearms, and Kristopher Justin Ervin. The duo were found guilty in a federal court in Florida in April 2023 for distributing machine gun conversion devices known as AutoKey Cards. 

These cards are thin metallic sheets with markings that mimic a lightning link, which can be used to convert specific AR-15 models into automatic firearms. According to U.S. law, specifically the National Firearms Act of 1936, any gadget capable of converting a weapon into an automatic firearm is treated like an automatic firearm itself.

Ervin viewed the card as a provocative object aimed at sparking debates on gun laws and gun rights. The trial revealed that he specifically opted for a shallow etching on the card to discourage purchasers from using it as a functioning lightning link. Furthermore, the etching was intentionally the wrong size for a functional lightning link. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) stated that the cards' functionality—or lack thereof—was irrelevant. Even ATF personnel couldn't make the device work as intended. Yet, the legal team from ATF argued that what mattered was that the accused believed the device could work, rendering its actual functionality moot.

While Hoover was found guilty of conspiracy, his involvement was limited to promoting the AutoKey Cards on his widely-watched YouTube channel, CRS Firearms. Government authorities claimed that most of the sales were driven by this promotional campaign.

When it came to sentencing, the court's pre-sentencing report suggested 22 to 34 months of imprisonment or supervised release for Hoover and time served plus three years of probation for Ervin, who had already spent nearly three years in jail. However, the Department of Justice pushed for much harsher penalties for both.

The judge noted that the pre-sentencing report didn't account for the ATF's classification of the cards as machine guns but indicated that she would not adopt the extreme sentences the government was pushing for. She also questioned why, if these cards were so dangerous, the ATF had not initiated their retrieval from civilian homes.

Ultimately, both Ervin and Hoover received five-year prison terms, a sentence that many see as disproportionately harsh for a crime that harmed no one. Appeals are anticipated from both convictions.

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