Judges May Consider Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Gun Offense When Determining Appropriate Sentence for Predicate Offense
Under federal law, it is a crime to use or carry a gun in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or to possess a gun in furtherance of such a crime. 18 USC 924(c). This crime carries a distinct penalty that must be imposed in addition to the punishment provided for the predicate crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. Id. A first-time offender under 18 USC 924(c) receives a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and a second or subsequent conviction under 924(c) results in an additional 25-year minimum. A sentence imposed for a conviction under 924(c) (a type of gun offense) must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed on the person, including any sentence for the underlying “predicate offense” of drug trafficking or a crime of violence. Historically, this has resulted in disproportionately long sentences for convicted defendants.
But change is on the horizon. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Dean v. United States, 581 U.S ___ (2017) that it is permissible for judges to consider the minimum sentences required for 924(c) offenses when determining appropriate sentences for the underlying predicate crimes. Specifically, the Court found that “[n]othing in 924(c) restricts the authority conferred on sentencing courts . . . to consider a sentence imposed under 924(c) when calculating a just sentence for the predicate count.” In practical terms, this holding means that criminal defendants convicted of a 924(c) charge can be sentenced to as little as one day in jail for the predicate offense, rather than the (substantially higher) sentencing range typically recommended under the Sentencing Guidelines. The anticipated effect of the Dean decision is shorter prison sentences for defendants convicted in federal court of both a 924(c) charge and an underlying predicate offense.
The Dean opinion is available here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-9260_8nj9.pdf.