Supreme Court Split Over Firearm Sentencing for Drug Offenders

(HorizonPost.com) –┬áThe Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in two cases pertaining to mandatory sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act for defendants with drug offenses, the New York Times reported.

The law imposes mandatory sentences on those convicted of unlawful gun possession if they already committed three serious drug offenses or violent felonies. The question during oral arguments was how to decide which drug offenses apply under the law.

Drug offenses are determined by a schedule of controlled substances maintained by the attorney general. However, since the schedule gets revised occasionally, a state drug conviction may or may not count under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Attorneys in the two cases gave the justices three options for determining which schedule would apply. The first option is the one currently in force, namely when the defendant committed a state drug offense. The second option is the drug schedule that is in effect when a defendant committed a federal gun crime while the third is using the schedule that is in effect when a defendant is sentenced for a federal gun crime.

In the first case, Brown vs. the United States, Justin Brown committed four state marijuana offenses in Pennsylvania and in each instance, he also committed a federal gun crime. At the time of the offenses, from 2009 to 2014, the drug schedule subjected him to a 15-year minimum sentence. But by the time Brown was sentenced for the federal crime, the drug schedule had been revised in his favor.

The attorney for Justin Brown argued in favor of the third option, however, several justices appeared to be unpersuaded.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested that it made no sense for Congress to enact a law that would allow two defendants who were convicted at the same time to be sentenced differently based on when their sentencing occurred.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson disagreed, noting that federal judges apply the sentencing law that is in effect at the time of sentencing.

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