18 U.S.C. 924(c) Stacked Sentence Reduction Possible, Per Supreme Court

Yesterday the Supreme Court in Dean v. United States held that sentencing courts are free to impose a sentence of one-day imprisonment for underlying offenses related to an 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) charge. For example, an individual charged with Hobbs Act robbery and a violation of § 924(c) can receive a sentence of one day on the Hobbs Act charge. That one day sentence would then run consecutive to the sentence on the 924 (c) charge.

Here's the syllabus from Dean:

Petitioner Dean and his brother committed two robberies of drug dealers. During each robbery, Dean’s brother threatened and assaulted the victim with a gun, while Dean searched the premises for valuables. Dean was convicted of multiple burglary and firearms counts, as well as two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §924 (c). Section 924 (c) criminalizes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such an underlying crime. That provision mandates a distinct penalty to be imposed “in addition to the punishment provided for [the predicate] crime,” §924(c)(1)(A). Further, §924(c) says that any sentence mandated by that provision must run consecutively to “any other term of imprisonment imposed on the person,” including any sentence for the predicate crime, §924 (c) (1) (D) (ii). A first conviction under §924(c) carries a five-year mandatory minimum penalty, §924 (c) (1) (A) (i), while a second conviction carries an additional 25-year mandatory minimum, §924 (c) (1) (C) (i). For Dean, that meant a 30-year mandatory minimum, to be served after and in addition to any sentence he received for his other counts of conviction.

At sentencing, Dean urged the District Court to consider his lengthy mandatory minimum sentences when calculating the sentences for his other counts and to impose concurrent one-day sentences for those counts. The judge said he would have agreed to Dean’s request but understood §924(c) to preclude a sentence of 30 years plus one day. On appeal, Dean argued that the District Court had erred in concluding that it could not vary from the Guidelines range based on the mandatory minimum sentences he would receive under §924(c). The Court of Appeals ruled that Dean’s argument was foreclosed by Circuit precedent and that his sentence was otherwise substantively reasonable.

Held: Section 924 (c) does not prevent a sentencing court from considering a mandatory minimum imposed under that provision when calculating an appropriate sentence for the predicate offense. Pp. 3–8.

(a) Sentencing courts have long enjoyed discretion in the sort of information they may consider when setting an appropriate sentence, and they continue to do so even as federal laws have required them to evaluate certain factors when exercising their discretion. Pepper v. United States, 562 U. S. 476 –489. Section 3553(a) specifies the factors courts are to consider when imposing a sentence. They include “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant,” as well as “the need for the sentence imposed” to serve the four overarching aims of sentencing: just punishment, deterrence, protection of the public, and rehabilitation. The §3553(a) factors are used to set both the length of separate prison terms, §3582(a), and an aggregate prison term comprising separate sentences for multiple counts of conviction, §3584(b). As a general matter, these sentencing provisions permit a court imposing a sentence on one count of conviction to consider sentences imposed on other counts.

The Government argues that district courts should calculate the appropriate term of imprisonment for each individual offense, disregarding whatever sentences a defendant may face on other counts. Only when determining an aggregate prison sentence, the Government maintains, should a district court consider the effect of those other sentences. Nothing in the law requires such an approach. There is no reason that the §3553(a) factors may not also be considered when determining a prison sentence for each individual offense in a multicount case. The Government’s interpretation is at odds not only with the text of those provisions but also with the Government’s own practice in “sentencing package cases.” Greenlaw v. United States, 554 U. S. 237. Pp. 3–6.

(b) The Government points to two limitations in §924(c) that, in its view, restrict the authority of sentencing courts to consider a sentence imposed under §924(c) when calculating a just sentence for the predicate count. Neither limitation supports the Government’s position. First, that a mandatory sentence under §924(c) must be imposed “in addition to the punishment provided” for the predicate crime says nothing about the length of a non-§924(c) sentence, much less about what information a court may consider in determining that sentence. Second, nothing in the requirement of consecutive sentences prevents a district court from imposing a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence under §924(c) and a one-day sentence for the predicate crime, provided those terms run one after the other.

The Government would, in effect, have this Court read into §924(c) the limitation explicitly made in §1028A(b)(3), which provides that in determining the appropriate length of imprisonment for a predicate felony, “a court shall not in any way reduce the term to be imposed for such crime so as to compensate for, or otherwise take into account, any separate term of imprisonment imposed or to be imposed for a violation of this section.” But “drawing meaning from silence is particularly inappropriate” where, as demonstrated in §1028A, “Congress has shown that it knows how to direct sentencing practices in express terms.” Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U. S. 85. Pp. 6–8.

810 F. 3d 521, reversed and remanded.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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