There is no escape hatch from a mandatory minimum sentence for using a gun to commit a violent crime, ruled the Supreme Court in its first decision of the term.
In Abbott v. U.S., and Gould v. U.S., the unanimous Court on Monday, said a defendant is not spared from a separate, consecutive sentence for the gun use even if he or she faces a higher, mandatory minimum sentence for a different count of the conviction. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.
The justices also added two cases to their criminal docket, one involving the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule and another concerning the application of the federal murder statute.
Kevin Abbott and Carlos Gould were convicted of multiple drug and firearm offenses. Their convictions included violation of a federal law imposing mandatory minimum sentences for the use of a deadly weapon in connection with any crime of violence or drug trafficking. The minimum sentence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) is five years in prison.
A section of the gun use law states that “a minimum term of five years shall be imposed as a consecutive sentence “[e]xcept to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by [924(c) itself] or by any other provision of law.”
Abbott and Gould argued that the “except” clause exempted them from the gun use mandatory minimum because they were sentenced to greater mandatory minimum prison terms for convictions on other counts charging different offenses. The government countered that the statute required a sentence of at least five years, tacked onto any other sentence the defendant receives.
“Abbott and Gould think the `except’ clause installed, instead, a modest scheme designed simply to ensure that all §924(c) offenders `serve at least 5 years in prison,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “We doubt that Congress meant a prefatory clause, added in a bill dubbed `An Act [t]o throttle criminal use of guns,’ to effect a departure so great from §924(c)’s longstanding thrust, i.e., its insistence that sentencing judges impose additional punishment for§924(c) violations.”
In the exclusionary rule petition granted Monday, Tolentino v. New York, Jose Tolentino argues that his motor vehicle records must be suppressed because they were consulted by police after making an illegal stop of his car for playing music too loudly. After getting Tolentino’s name, police officers checked motor vehicle records and discovered that his license had been suspended and that he had had at least 10 prior suspensions. He ultimately pled guilty to driving without a license and was sentenced to five years’ probation.
Tolentino contends that the New York Court of Appeals erred in holding that the exclusionary rule does not apply when the only link between improper police activity and the disputed evidence is that the police learned the defendant’s name.
In the second grant — Fowler v. U.S. — Charles Fowler appeals a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that affirmed his conviction for murder with the intent to prevent a person from communicating information about a federal offense to a federal law enforcement officer or judge of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C).
Fowler shot a police officer in the back of the head after the officer discovered the identity of a member of Fowler’s gang shortly before they robbed a bank.
The dispute in the Supreme Court centers on what the government must show to prove a violation of the murder statute. Fowler argued unsuccessfully in the lower court that the law requires proof that a federal investigation is ongoing, imminent, or likely, and that the government failed to show that federal nexus to the murder.
The 11th Circuit held that the government only must prove that the defendant intended to prevent the murder victim from potentially communicating with federal law enforcement officials about a possible federal offense.
And finally, The Court on Monday also issued an order suspending former securities class action lawyer, William Lerach, from practicing in the Supreme Court. The justices gave him 40 days to show cause why he should not be disbarred. Lerach, who pled guilty to obstruction of justice in 2007, was disbarred by the California State Bar in 2009.
Marcia Coyle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.