By Tracey Kaplan and Cam Inman San Jose Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Embattled 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was charged Wednesday with possession of illegal assault weapons and drunken driving for separate incidents that occurred in the past 14 months.
If Smith is convicted of the three felony gun charges, he would face a range of possible punishments, from probation to four years and four months in prison. Deputies discovered the guns shortly after a June 2012 house party, which ended with Smith being stabbed and two partygoers wounded by gunfire from gang members who crashed the get-together.
Last month, Smith was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after he hit a tree. He now faces two misdemeanor DUI charges, including having a blood-alcohol level of .15 — nearly double the legal limit.
The 24-year-old, who is currently in a rehabilitation program, is expected to surrender later this month.
Asked why the gun charges were filed more than a year after the weapons were found, which is unusual, prosecutors Wednesday said the sheriff’s department first presented the case to them in July.
They then conducted their own investigation, concluding that charges were warranted — partly because they discovered that Smith bought the weapons in Arizona in 2011 while he was a California resident. It is illegal for California residents to purchase assault weapons, even in another state where they are legal.
However, prosecutors were aware of the guns more than a year ago. Deputy District Attorney Brian Buckelew, who took over the case this summer, said the office was initially focused on investigating the gang members who wounded Smith and the partygoers.
“People’s attention, rightfully so, was on the underlying more serious crimes,” Buckelew said. “There certainly was no potential prejudice to the case to wait.”
Smith also faces possible time behind bars for the drunk-driving incident. The typical sentence for a first-time conviction is six days on a weekend work crew. But in Smith’s case, prosecutors said there are three aggravating factors that could put him in jail for up to six months — he was involved in a collision (with a tree), his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit and he was arrested in Florida previously for drunk driving. The Florida violation was reduced to reckless driving, so it is not chargeable as a prior offense, though it may have a strong bearing on sentencing.
In a written statement, District Attorney Jeff Rosen underscored the gravity of the guns charges, saying that the fact that the weapons can be used to kill and injure people outweighs their use as sports or recreational firearms.
The danger became all too real during the party, prosecutors said, because someone went into Smith’s bedroom, removed one of the assault weapons and carried it around the house.
“The irresponsible storage of the weapons led to danger to everyone at the party,” Buckelew said. “They were not secured at a party full of gang members, which seems like a bad idea.”
The team issued a short statement.
“We recognize the serious nature of this situation, as does Aldon, and will continue to monitor it closely. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we will have no further comment.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh echoed the team’s statement, adding: “We’ve been aware of the incident and the serious nature of it. We’re all accountable for our actions, good and bad. There’s due process that will take place.”
The weapons include an Armalite AR10-T .308 caliber rifle, a Bushmaster ACR rifle chambered for 5.56mm NATO and a Bushmaster Carbon-15 .223 caliber rifle.
Sheriff’s investigators also found some large-capacity magazines around the floor.
Rosen’s office also charged Smith with an infraction for having a false license plate. Smith was driving a black Chevrolet truck when he crashed into a tree on Sept. 20, but the license plate on the vehicle was for a Dodge Challenger that Smith also owns. The license plate registration on the truck expired nearly a year ago, according to the documents.
Smith was also booked but not charged for possession of prescription pills without a prescription. Two envelopes were found in the vehicle, one that contained a single pill of Skelaxin, a muscle relaxant, and the second containing one pill of Indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory drug.
A San Jose police officer also noticed a pipe on the center console and the smell of marijuana.
Smith also faces two civil suits from men allegedly shot at the party.