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Supreme Court Upholds Gun Enhancement for Drug Crimes

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #659)
Politics & Advocacy

In a unanimous decision Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the sentences of two men who received mandatory minimum five-year sentencing enhancements for possessing a gun during the commission of a drug offense. Under federal law, the presence of a weapon merits the five-year sentence, which must run consecutive to any other sentences.

US Supreme Court
The case, Abbot v. US, actually consolidated two different cases. In the first, Philadelphia resident Kevin Abbott was convicted of drug trafficking, a related gun charge, and being a career criminal. He was sentenced to 15 years on the career criminal count and five years on the gun count, and the trial judge added them together to sentence him to 20 years in total.

In the second case, Wichita Falls, Texas, resident Carlos Gould pleaded guilty to a cocaine trafficking count with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and a related gun count with a five-year mandatory minimum. The trial court sentenced him to 11 years and five months on the cocaine charge, then added another five years for the gun count.

In appealing their sentences, both men pointed to a 1998 revision of the 1968 federal gun control law. In that revision, Congress added a new preface saying the gun enhancement would apply "except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is provided." Both men argued that their longer sentences on related charges should have voided the additional five years on the gun convictions.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, didn't agree, even though she conceded that ruling in their favor might make sense as a matter of policy. "We do not gainsay that Abbott and Gould project a rational, less harsh, mode of sentencing," she wrote. "But we do not think it was the mode Congress ordered."

Congress was not aiming for leniency when it revised the law in 1998, Ginsburg wrote. Nor did it mean to say that a longer mandatory minimum for related crimes voided the five-year gun sentence.

"We doubt that Congress meant a prefatory clause, added in a bill dubbed 'an act to throttle criminal use of guns,' to effect a departure so great from" the original purpose of the 1968 law," Ginsburg wrote. That purpose, she continued, was "insistence that sentencing judges impose additional punishment."

Monday's ruling is just one more indicator that the Supreme Court is not overly concerned about long, sometimes decades long, prison sentences meted out to drug offenders who possess guns, whether or not the weapon was used or displayed. The poster boy for the injustice of the gun sentencing enhancement is Weldon Angelos, a Salt Lake City pot dealer and aspiring rap music empresario who is now serving a 55-year sentence because he carried a pistol as he went about his business, even though he never shot or threatened anyone or brandished his gun. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 2006.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


David Witt (not verified)

Nothing that any politician says should be accepted solely on faith. No politician should be trusted aside from their demonstrated ability to accomplish important tasks.
Thu, 11/18/2010 - 7:52pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

has been anti-Constitution and anti-liberty since the days of FDR.  Expecting anything else from them is insane.

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 4:20am Permalink
Nedmorlef (not verified)

They lost their credibility a long time ago. The supreme court has become so politicized that, you can't put an ounce of faith in their decisions.

As a matter of fact I have lost faith in all of washington to do what is right for us. They're more intent on securing their ruling class.

We need term limits on these 9 politically charged individuals selected on their politics or lack thereof. Their ,ruling on what the constitution actually says is like 9 foxes voting on who guards the henhouse

Tue, 11/23/2010 - 7:40pm Permalink

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