Deal v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: An apartment on the North Side

DOCKET NO.: 91-8199
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 508 US 129 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1993
DECIDED: May 17, 1993

Dola J. Young - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Miguel A. Estrada - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

Between January and April 1990, Thomas Lee Deal committed six bank robberies. In each robbery, he used a gun. Subsequently, Deal was convicted, in a single proceeding, of six counts of carrying and using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 USC section 924(c)(1). Section 924(c)(1) prescribes a 5-year prison term for the first such conviction, in addition to the punishment provided for the crime of violence, and requires a 20-year sentence "in the case of [a] second or subsequent conviction under this subsection." The District Court sentenced Deal to 5 years' imprisonment on the first section 924(c)(1) count and to 20 years on each of the five other counts, the terms to run consecutively. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Does a criminal's second through sixth convictions under section 924(c)(1) in a single proceeding arise "in the case of his second or subsequent conviction" within the meaning of section 924(c)(1)?

Media for Deal v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1993 in Deal v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 91-8199, Thomas Lee Deal v. the United States.

Ms. Young, you may proceed.

Dola J. Young:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Thomas Lee Deal, the petitioner, committed six bank robberies in the Houston, Texas area during a 4-month period.

In addition to being found guilty and sentenced for those bank robberies he was found guilty and sentenced for six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence and for being a felon in possession of a weapon.

At issue in this case is whether Mr. Deal was given notice that he would receive 20-year sentences on five of the six counts for using a firearm during a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 924(c).

Mr. Deal contends that his Fifth Amendment due process rights were violated because the rule of lenity was not applied when imposing the 20-year sentences under section 924(c).

William H. Rehnquist:

It's your position, Ms. Young, that the rule of lenity is required by the Fifth Amendment?

Dola J. Young:

No, Your Honor, it is required by the rulings of this Court when a statute is ambiguous.

So for that reason petitioner is asking this Court to construe the statute as imposing a 20-year sentence only if the offense is committed after a previous 5-year sentence has been, has become final.

Such a construction is necessary because the language of section 924(c), specifically in the case of his second or subsequent conviction, is ambiguous for several reasons when both the language of the statute and the structure and operation of the statute are considered.

Turning to the language of the statute, the specific language at issue has two meanings, one of two meanings.

It can be construed as multiple convictions occurring at the same time, or it can be construed as multiple convictions occurring in chronological sequence.


Harry A. Blackmun:

Ms. Young, if you prevail here what will be the ultimate outcome?

30 years instead of--

Dola J. Young:

--Of 105, yes, sir.

Harry A. Blackmun:


So he is put away for 30 years anyway?

Dola J. Young:

Well, 30 years on the 924(c) counts, plus he received approximately 14 years on the bank robberies which was to run concurrently with 10 years for being a felon in possession of a weapon.

So the total sentence would be approximately 44 years.

Byron R. White:

But the six counts were bank robbery, was it?

Dola J. Young:

Yes, sir, that was the crime of violence.

Byron R. White:

They were different dates and different places, I suppose?

Dola J. Young:

Yes, sir, they were.

There were six bank robberies, there were four different banks, and two of the banks were robbed twice but at different dates, on different dates.

Byron R. White:

So if there had just been, if there had just been separate indictments for the six bank robberies, one indictment for each bank robbery, you wouldn't be here, I suppose?

Dola J. Young:

Yes, Your Honor, we would still be here because looking at the operation of the statute, the statute is in two parts.

The first part, which calls for a 5-year sentence when a firearm is used during a crime of violence, is clearly an enhancement statute.

That is the penalty is imposed for violation of another statutory provision.