United States v. Batchelder

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Batchelder
LOCATION: Seneca County Court

DOCKET NO.: 78-776
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 442 US 114 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1979

Andrew J. Levander - for petitioner, pro hac vice
Charles A. Bellows - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Batchelder

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1979 in United States v. Batchelder

Warren E. Burger:

-- Justice Stewart.

We’ll hear arguments first this morning in United States against Batchelder.

Mr. Levander, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Andrew J. Levander:

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

This case is here on a government’s petition to review a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

At issue is the interaction of the sentencing provisions of two separate titles of the federal gun laws, underlying a statutory decision of the court below of constitutional questions implicating the scope of prosecutorial discretion and validity of overlapping criminal statutes.

At the outset, I would like to emphasize that there is no question here concerning the correctness of respondent’s conviction.

The only question presented concerns respondent’s sentence.

Following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, respondent was convicted of one count of violating 18 U.S.C. 922 (h).

As this Court concluded in Barrett against United States, that statute unambiguously prohibits felons, such as respondent, from receiving a firearm that has traveled in interstate commerce.

The evidence supporting respondent’s conviction may be summarized briefly.

On July 31, 1975 respondent sold a .38 caliber pistol to a federal undercover agent for $70.00.

At this time, respondent stated to the agent that he had received the gun following a burglary in St. Louis, and that in the recent past he had had and transferred other firearms.

Respondent stipulated to the facts at trial that the pistol had traveled in interstate commerce, and also to the fact that he had been previously convicted of a felony in 1960.

The District Court sentenced respondent to five years imprisonment in accordance with Section 924 (a) of Title 18.

That statute makes clear that a violation of Section 922 (h) is punishable by up to five years imprisonment and/or $5,000.00 fine.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed respondent’s conviction.

A divided panel however, concluded that despite the expressed provisions of Section 924 (a) respondent can only be sentenced up to two years in prison.

The court’s conclusion was based on the fact that respondent’s receipt of a firearm also violated Section 1202 (a) of Title 18.

And that provision carried only a two-year maximum penalty although it also carried a larger fine that is $10,000.00.

The Court of Appeals felt this overlap raise serious constitutional questions.

Its decision, however, accorded the rest on statutory grounds.

Judge McMillan dissented from the Court of Appeals decision noting that the overlap between the five-year statute and the two-year statute are very common among criminal statutes in Title 18, and that the Government has traditionally had the discretion to pursue a defendant under any of applicable statutes.

Warren E. Burger:

Do you think that’s analogous to the discretion of the prosecutor whether he should charge a first-degree murder for example or second degree murder or manslaughter, or is there an alternative?

Andrew J. Levander:

I think it’s very analogous, Your Honor.

And this Court in Gregg against Georgia founded that that discretion to actually charge first-degree murder or not to charge didn’t violate the constitutional rates, constitutional difficulties.

It is also similar to the discretion of this Court upheld in Bordenkircher against Hayes.

That is the discretion of the prosecutor to -- in plea bargaining to add various counts or not add various counts.

It is also --

Potter Stewart:

There’s also a difference is, unless I misunderstand it that the elements of the offense at least with respect to this defendant were exactly the same.