Unanimous court allows longer prison term in gun, drug crimes (Nov. 15, 2010)

In the first opinion of the new term, a unanimous Supreme Court upheld longer prison sentences for people convicted of carrying or using a gun while committing drug trafficking crimes.

In a pair of consolidated cases, defendants engaged in drug trafficking while using a firearm. Both defendants received an additional five-year sentence for using or carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 924(c)(1)A), even though they received longer mandatory minimum sentences under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

On appeal, they argued that the sentencing enhancement provided by 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)A) should run concurrently with their already longer minimum sentences. The Third and Fifth Circuits rejected the defendants' arguments.

In the first opinion of the court's 2010-2011 term, the justices unanimously upheld the lower courts' rulings.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the unanimous court. Meanwhile, Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, which she had been party to as the former solicitor general.

Question presented: Does a mandatory minimum sentence provided by 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(I)(A) apply to a count when another count already carries a greater mandatory minimum sentence?