Mark Witaschek prosecuted for shotguns shell in D.C., no gun
Jailed and later convicted for muzzleloader bullets, then tax investigation launched
I met Mark Whitaschek in 2013 after D.C. raided his Georgetown house — without a warrant —looking for unregistered guns. After handcuffing him, pulling his son out of the shower, blasting through safes, ripping through doors, they found one inert shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets.
He went to jail. The city prosecuted him for “possession of unregistered ammunition.” At the trial, the judge said she didn’t know what was a shotgun shell, but she convicted him anyway.
Other citizens prosecuted for just ammo in D.C. are in my book, Emily Gets Her Gun (Regnery, 2013).
Then the city government launched a criminal investigation into his taxes. Without ever getting a search warrant, the city was able to nab him. Read about his appeal all the way to the Supreme Court in 2022 here.
To get caught up from the beginning of Witaschek’s story, I put my exclusive reporting from The Washington Times in chronological order below:
MILLER: D.C. businessman faces two years in jail for unregistered ammunition, brass casing
October 23, 2013
Mark Witaschek, a successful financial adviser with no criminal record, is facing two years in prison for possession of unregistered ammunition after D.C. police raided his house looking for guns. Mr. Witaschek has never had a firearm in the city, but he is being prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The trial starts on Nov. 4.
The police banged on the front door of Mr. Witaschek’s Georgetown home at 8:20 p.m. on July 7, 2012, to execute a search warrant for “firearms and ammunition … gun cleaning equipment, holsters, bullet holders and ammunition receipts.”
Mr. Witaschek’s 14-year-old daughter let inside some 30 armed officers in full tactical gear.
D.C. law requires residents to register every firearm with the police, and only registered gun owners can possess ammunition, which includes spent shells and casings. The maximum penalty for violating these laws is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
After entering the house, the police immediately went upstairs, pointed guns at the heads of Mr. Witaschek and his girlfriend, Bonnie Harris, and demanded they surrender, facedown and be handcuffed.
In recalling what followed, Mr. Witaschek became visibly emotional in describing how the police treated him, Ms. Harris and the four children in the house.
His 16-year-old son was in the shower when the police arrived. “They used a battering ram to bash down the bathroom door and pull him out of the shower, naked,” said his father. “The police put all the children together in a room, while we were handcuffed upstairs. I could hear them crying, not knowing what was happening.”
MILLER: D.C. man on trial for one shotgun shell-
Mark Witaschek is the first known prosecution for inoperable, unregistered ammunition
January 20, 2014
Mr. Witaschek, a successful financial adviser with no criminal history, is the first known case of a citizen being prosecuted in D.C. for inoperable ammunition. Washington police and prosecutors have spent a year and a half trying to nail him for the possession of so-called unregistered ammunition.
A hunter and gun owner, Mr. Witaschek has always kept his firearms at his sister’s house in Virginia. If convicted, he faces a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for having a single, inoperable shotgun shell in his home. The jury trial starts on Feb. 11.
The Metropolitan Police Department raided Mr. Witaschek’s rented Georgetown house twice in the summer of 2012 on the word of his angry ex-wife.
Frustrated with not finding the promised firearms, the police handcuffed him, searched his home top to bottom and came out with only ammunition, which carries the same felony penalty as a firearm.
Mr. Witaschek told me this week, “Since the night my home was invaded and family terrorized by a militarized D.C. police force, I am more afraid of what government is doing than I am of any of the people I encountered when I spent the night in jail.”
He added, “The Second Amendment was meant to guarantee individuals the right to protect themselves against the government — as much as against private bad guys and gangs.”
There have been two pre-trial hearings in the case so far. At the end of the first hearing in November, Judge Robert Morin gave the government until Jan. 3 to come up with a good defense for the initial police raid without a search warrant.
MILLER: Exclusive - Mark Witaschek takes the stand in D.C. shotgun shell trial
Friday, March 26, 2014
The D.C. government is treating the case of a businessman possessing ammunition without a gun like the great murder trial of 2014.
The city has spent almost two years and countless resources prosecuting Mark Witaschek for having a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets. His trial, which began in November, hit an all-time low for absurdity Wednesday.
Mr. Witaschek took the stand in his own defense at D.C. Superior Court to explain why he was not guilty of possession of unregistered ammunition. It is illegal in the nation’s capital to possess ammunition unless you have a registered firearm. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
MILLER: Exclusive — Shock verdict — Mark Witaschek guilty of possessing muzzleloader bullets in D.C.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
In a surprising twist at the end of a long trial, a District of Columbia judge found Mark Witaschek guilty of “attempted possession of unlawful ammunition” for antique replica muzzleloader bullets.
Judge Robert Morin sentenced Mr. Witaschek to time served, a $50 fine and required him to enroll with the Metropolitan Police Department’s firearm offenders’ registry within 48 hours.
Outside the courtroom, I asked Mr. Witaschek how he felt about the verdict. “I’m completely outraged by it,” he said. “This is just a continuation of the nightmare. Just to sit there. I could not believe it.”
Until the final hours of the trial, both the defense and government focused the case on whether the single 12 gauge shotgun shell that was found in Mr. Witaschek’s D.C. home was operable. The judge, however, never ruled on it.
In the afternoon on Wednesday, Judge Morin shook the plastic shell and tried to listen to something inside. He said he could not hear any gunpowder. He then asked the lawyers to open the shell to see if there was powder inside.
Judge Morin said, “I’m persuaded these are bullets. They look like bullets. They are hollow points. They are not musket balls.” He then ruled that Mr. Witaschek had possessed “beyond a reasonable doubt” the metal pieces in D.C.
The judge, however, still seemed to think this was a strange issue for a court. “It’s taken four lawyers all afternoon to get through an interpretation of whether or not these are lawful,” he noted.
Before sentencing, Mr. Witaschek addressed the judge.
“I’ve never been arrested in my life up until this incident,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “My use of firearms is strictly recreational. I’ve never had any criminal intent.”
The businessman asked for leniency so that he would not lose his license to practice his financial management company.
“I run the risk of losing my job, my occupation, as a result of this conviction,” he said. “I ask the court not to add to that burden of what’s already been done to my life over the last two years.”
READ THE WHOLE STORY FROM THE COURTROOM HERE
MILLER: Witaschek surrenders to D.C. police 'Gun Offenders Registry'
March 28, 2014
Mark Witaschek never had a firearm in the District of Columbia, but he is now on the city’s Gun Offenders Registry.
This bizarre case has drawn national attention because an upstanding citizen was tried and convicted of possessing unregistered ammunition for muzzleloader bullets, which are simply pieces of lead and copper.
I accompanied Mr. Witaschek and his wife, Bonnie, to Metropolitan Police Department headquarters to abide by the terms of his sentence, which meant registering within 48 hours.
Immediately inside the front doors and metal detectors is the Gun Offenders Registry Unit, which has suddenly appeared in the same office space as what was the Firearms Registry Unit. A white piece of paper taped over the existing painted sign indicated the office switch.
“They label it ‘gun-offender registry’ to sound like a sex-offender registry,” Mr. Witaschek noted.
READ THE STORY FROM THE POLICE STATION HERE
MILLER: D.C. investigating Mark Witaschek's taxes after conviction for muzzleloader bullet
The District of Columbia has spent almost two years persecuting a good man because they wrongly thought he had guns in the city.
It wasn’t enough to prosecute Mark Witaschek for having one shotgun shell and a box of muzzleloader bullets. After a three-month trial that ended in a conviction, the city started an investigation into the businessman’s taxes.
This abuse of power must end.
On the word of a bitter ex, the police searched Mr. Witaschek‘s Georgetown home twice in 2012 looking for guns. They never found the bounty of firearms since Mr. Witaschek, a hunter, keeps his guns at his sister’s home in Virginia.
The D.C. cops went to Sylvia Witaschek’s home in the commonwealth and demanded she show them the guns, but she refused.
The day after the trial, an agent from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue showed up at Mr. Witaschek‘s office.
His employer was given a summons to produce payroll and a multitude of other records for investigators by April 11. No allegations have yet been made in this fishing expedition.
Mr. Witaschek said he filed D.C. taxes and paid up to the due dates required, until he moved to Virginia last year.
I asked Mr. Witaschek why he thought this tax investigation suddenly arose.
“I think the police wanted to confiscate my guns from the beginning. They are really angry that I didn’t comply,” the businessman explained. “They will use whatever government resources they choose to get what they wanted — or make me pay. They already used the U.S. attorney, a grand jury, the D.C. attorney general, and now the Office of Tax and Revenue.”
He added, “I don’t think they’ll stop here. After two years of this, why would they?”
Mr. Witaschek feels he has been wrongly convicted. His attorney, Howard X. McEachern, filed a motion for a new trial on Friday. Mr. McEachern will also appeal the ruling both on the technicality of the charge and his client’s Second Amendment rights.
The basis for a new trial is that muzzleloader bullets are not “ammunition” under the law.
In the court filing, Mr. McEachern points out that muzzleloader firearms are antique replicas and exempt from the registration laws. They are never used in crimes because they can only fire one shot at a time, and it takes a long time to reload.
The lawyer explained that the Knight-brand bullets did not contain the gunpowder or primer present in cartridges used in modern firearms.
Mr. Witaschek‘s trials and tribulations have gotten national attention as an example of how government can become tyrannical and destroy a law-abiding person.
The Founding Fathers said the most important reason for the Second Amendment was to prevent a government from accumulating too much power. That is why Mr. Witaschek‘s case should scare every American.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY FROM 2014 HERE
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