RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
DOCKET NO.: 09-479
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 562 US 8 (2010)
GRANTED: Jan 25, 2010
ARGUED: Oct 04, 2010
DECIDED: Nov 15, 2010
David L. Horan - for the petitioner in 09-7073, appointed by the Court
James E. Ryan - for the petitioner in 09-479
Roy W. McLeese, III - Acting Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Facts of the case
In these consolidated cases, the defendants engaged in drug trafficking while using a firearm. Both defendants received an additional five-year sentence for using or carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 924(c)(1)A), even though they received longer mandatory minimum sentences under the Armed Career Criminal Act. On appeal, they argued that the sentencing enhancement provided by 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)A) should run concurrently with their already longer minimum sentences. The Third and Fifth Circuits rejected the defendants' arguments.
Does a mandatory minimum sentence provided by 18 U.S.C § 924(c)(1)A) run concurrently or consecutively to another count that carries a longer than ordinary mandatory minimum sentence?
Media for Abbott v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 04, 2010 in Abbott v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 15, 2010 in Abbott v. United States
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
A federal criminal statute, Section 924(c) of Title 18, makes it a discrete offense to use, carry or possess a deadly weapon in connection with any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.
The statute imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years to run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed on the offender.
In 1998, Congress reformulated 924(c) in the name, to enlarge its scope and heighten penalties for violation of the provi -- provision.
Spotting the question we decide today, Congress also added a preparatory except clause.
The clause states that the five-year minimum sentence shall be imposed except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by 924(c) itself or by any other provision of law.
In unrelated cases, petitioners Kevin Abbott and Carlos Rashad Gould, each received a five-year sentence for violating 924(c) by possessing a firearm in connection with the drug trafficking crime.
Abbott's five-year sentence was imposed on top of a 15 year mandatory sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Gould's five-year term was added to a ten-year mandatory sentence for his drug trafficking crime.
Abbott and Gould contend that there are heavier sentences imposed for counts of conviction other than 924(c), each of them greater than five years, triggered the “except” clause.
The clause as they read it, exempts them from serving the additional five-year term specified for violating 924(c) by possessing a firearm in connection with the drug trafficking crime.
The courts below, at the second -- the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third and Fifth Circuits, rejected Abbott's and Gould's interpretations.
The “except” clause, those courts noted, refers to a greater minimum sentence otherwise provided.
“Otherwise provided for what?”
the courts asked.
They answered, “A conduct violating 924(c) that is, possessing a firearm in connection with a violent or drug trafficking crime.”
We affirm the judgments of the Circuit Courts.
The “except” clause we hold, applies only when another provision whether contained within or placed outside 924(c) imposes a higher mandatory minimum penalty for conduct violating 924(c).
As an illustration, the mandatory minimum sentence for a 924(c) offense is five years but if the firearm is brandished, the minimum rises to seven and if the firearm is discharged, to ten years.
A defendant who possess, brandished and discharged a firearm in violation of 924(c), would thus face a mandatory of minimum term of ten years, the penalty for firing a weapon.
But there is no stacking five years and seven on that added to 10.
And dispositive here, the defendant is not spared from serving a discrete 924(c) sentence by virtue of receiving a higher mandatory minimum on a different count of conviction in Abbott's case, being a felon in possession of a firearm and in Gould's, drug trafficking.
Rather a 924(c) violator is subject to the highest mandatory minimum specified for the conduct offending 924(c) unless another provision of law addressed to the conduct prescribed by 924(c), imposes an even greater mandatory minimum.
Our decision is unanimous.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.