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 June 19, 2023

A unanimous Supreme Court decision reduces prison terms for certain gun crimes

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 16 that some individuals convicted of firearms offenses can serve less time in prison.

The nation's highest court ruled unanimously that sentences for certain gun offenses may run concurrently, siding with the convict, as The Epoch Times reported.

“Congress could certainly have designed the penalty scheme at issue here differently. But Congress did not do any of these things. And we must implement the design Congress chose,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Biden appointee, wrote in the ruling (pdf).

There are two sections of 18 U.S.C. 924 involved in this case. In subsection (c), which details offenses and penalties, it is stated that "no term of imprisonment imposed on a person under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment imposed on that person."

Recent addition subsection (j) outlines additional offenses and their corresponding penalties. It contains no language prohibiting concurrent sentences.

In general, district courts have discretion over whether prison terms run concurrently or consecutively. Certain laws prohibit concurrent sentences in certain circumstances.

The plaintiff, Efrain Lora, was found guilty of aiding and abetting a person who uses or carries a firearm during a drug trafficking or violent crime and then "causes the death of a person through the use of a firearm." Lora was also convicted of narcotic distribution conspiracy.

In 2002, Lora and three other cocaine traffickers assassinated a rival drug distributor in New York City over a territorial dispute.

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, a George W. Bush appointee, cited a provision prohibiting concurrent sentences for offenses that include one of the crimes for which Lora was convicted when he handed down Lora's sentence.

The judge sentenced Lora to 25 years in prison for conspiracy, followed by an additional five years for the other offense. A court of appeals upheld the decision. Lora argued that his sentences could have run concurrently because the law cited by Gardephe did not address the aiding and abetting offense.

U.S. officials disagreed and argued that the inferior courts had it right. They argued that the Supreme Court should not review the situation.

All nine members of the court took Lora's side:

“Subsection (c)’s consecutive-sentence mandate applies only to the terms of imprisonment prescribed within subsection (c). A sentence imposed under subsection (j) does not qualify,” Jackson, the newest member of the court, wrote. “Subsection (j) is located outside subsection (c) and does not call for imposing any sentence from subsection (c).”

“Combining the two subsections would set them on a collision course; indeed, in some cases, the maximum sentence would be lower than the minimum sentence,” she also said.

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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