In the first decision released during the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 term, the Court ruled unanimously that Congress did not intend to spare individuals who are convicted of federal crimes from an additional sentence if they used a gun in the commission of a drug offense or violent crime.
The decision resolved a dispute among lower courts over the effect of a 1998 federal law that added at least five years to an individual’s prison sentence for the underlying crime if the individual used or carried a gun during a drug crime or crime of violence. The Court recalled that Congress provided the additional punishment with the intent to punish an individual independently for having a gun while committing a crime, according to the SCOTUS Blog.
Agreeing with the federal government’s arguments, the Court ruled that people who violate a criminal ban on gun use or possession must receive at least five extra years of imprisonment, unless a different law adds even more time to the prison term.
Two Underlying Drug Crimes
The question of whether the extra five years always applies arose in two separate cases. In the first case, Kevin Abbott was convicted of several cocaine crimes as well as being a convicted felon in possession of a gun, and using that gun while committing the drug crimes. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the felon-in-possession conviction and five more years were added under the 1998 law because he had a gun during the cocaine crimes.
Abbott argued that he was not subject to the 1998 law because he already received a minimum sentence of 15 years for the felon-in-possession conviction, which exceeded the five years required by law for gun possession during a drug offense. The Supreme Court disagreed and determined that Abbot should receive a 20-year sentence.
In the second case, Carlos Rashad Gould pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine; he also admitted to possessing a gun during the crime. He received the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the cocaine trafficking offense and five additional years for possessing a gun during the drug offense.
Per the SCOTUS Blog, Gould argued that the extra five years was invalid because of the mandatory sentence he already received. The court rejected Gould’s argument and said his sentence must also include the five extra years.
Source: A day for criminal law