435 U.S. 6 (1978), 76-5761, Simpson v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 76-5761
Citation:435 U.S. 6, 98 S.Ct. 909, 55 L.Ed.2d 70
Party Name:Simpson v. United States
Case Date:February 28, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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435 U.S. 6 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 909, 55 L.Ed.2d 70

Simpson

v.

United States

No. 76-5761

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 28, 1978

Argued November 1, 1977

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The punishment for bank robbery under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) may be enhanced under § 2113(d) when the robbery is committed "by the use of a dangerous weapon or device." Title 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) provides that whoever "uses a firearm to commit any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States," shall be subject to a penalty in addition to the punishment provided for the commission of such felony. Petitioners were convicted of two separate aggravated bank robberies [98 S.Ct. 910] and of using firearms to commit the robberies, in violation of §§ 2113(a) and (d) and 924(c), and were sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment on the robbery and firearms counts, the District Court rejecting their contention that the imposition of the cumulative penalties for the two crimes was impermissible because the § 2113(d) charges merged with the firearms offenses for purposes of sentencing. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: In a prosecution growing out of a single transaction of bank robbery with firearms, a defendant may not be sentenced under both § 2113(d) and § 924(c). This construction of those provisions is supported not only by § 924(c)'s legislative history, but also by the established rules of statutory construction that "ambiguity concerning the ambit of criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of lenity," United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 347; Rewis v. United States, 401 U.S. 808, 812, and that precedence should be given to the terms of the more specific statute where a general statute and a specific statute speak to the same concern, even if the general provision was enacted later. Pp. 10-16.

542 F.2d 1177, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post p. 16.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The punishment for bank robbery of a fine of not more than $5,000 and imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both, 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a), may be enhanced to a fine of not more than $10,000 and imprisonment for not more than 25 years, or both, when the robbery is committed "by the use of a dangerous weapon or device," 18 U.S.C. § 2113(d).1 Another statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), provides that whoever

uses a

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firearm to commit any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States . . . shall, in addition to the punishment provided for the commission of such felony, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years,

and "[i]n the case of his second or subsequent conviction under this subsection," to imprisonment for not less than 2 nor more than 25 years;

nor shall the term of imprisonment imposed under this subsection run concurrently with any term of imprisonment imposed for the commission of such felony.2

Petitioners were convicted of two separate bank [98 S.Ct. 911] robberies committed with firearms. The question for decision is whether §§ 2113(d) and 924(c) should be construed as intended by Congress to authorize, in the case of a bank robbery committed with firearms, not only the imposition of the increased penalty under § 2113(d), but also the imposition of an additional consecutive penalty under § 924(C).

I

On September 8, 1975, petitioners, using handguns to intimidate the bank's employees, robbed some $40,000 from the East End Branch of the Commercial Bank of Middlesboro,

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Ky. App. 20. Less than two months later, on November 4, 1975, petitioners returned to Middlesboro and this time, again using handguns, robbed the West End Branch of the Commercial Bank of about the same amount.

Petitioners received a separate jury trial for each robbery. After the trial for the first robbery, they were convicted of both aggravated bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and (d), and of using firearms to commit the robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). They were sentenced to consecutive terms of 25 years' imprisonment on the robbery count and 10 years' imprisonment on the firearms count. After the trial for the second robbery, petitioners were again convicted of one count of aggravated bank robbery in violation of §§ 2113(a) and (d) and of one count of using firearms to commit the crime in violation of § 924(c); again each received a 25-year sentence for the robbery and a 10-year sentence for the firearms count, the sentences to run consecutively to each other and to the sentences previously imposed.

During the sentencing proceedings following each conviction, counsel for petitioners argued that the imposition of cumulative penalties for the two crimes was impermissible because the § 2113(d) charge merged with the firearms offense for purposes of sentencing. The District Court disagreed, holding that "the statutes and the legislative history indicat[e] an intention [by § 924(c)] to impose an additional punishment." App. 17. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed without a published opinion, 542 F.2d 1177 (176). We granted certiorari, 430 U.S. 964 (1977), to resolve an apparent conflict between the decision below and the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Eagle, 539 F.2d 1166 (1976).3 We reverse.

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II

Quite clearly, §§ 924(c) and 2113(d) are addressed to the same concern and designed to combat the same problem: the use of dangerous weapons -- most particularly firearms -- to commit federal felonies.4 Although we agree with the Court of Appeals that [98 S.Ct. 912] § 924(c) creates an offense distinct from the underlying federal felony, United States v. Ramirez, 482 F.2d 807 (CA2 1973); United States v. Sudduth, 457 F.2d 1198 (CA1 1972), we believe that this is the beginning, and not the end, of the analysis necessary to answer the question presented for decision.

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In Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), this Court set out the test for determining "whether two offenses are sufficiently distinguishable to permit the imposition of cumulative punishment." Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 166 (1977). We held that

[t]he applicable rule is that, where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not.

Blockburger v. United States, supra at 304. See also Brown v. Ohio, supra at 166; Ianelli v. United States, 420 U.S. 770 (1975); Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958). The Blockburger test has its primary relevance in the double jeopardy context, where it is a guide for determining when two separately define crimes constitute the "same offense" for double jeopardy purposes. Brown v. Ohio, supra.5

Cases in which the Government is able to prove violations of two separate criminal statutes with precisely the same factual showing, as here, raise the prospect of double jeopardy and the possible need to evaluate the statutes in light of the Blockburger test. That test, the Government argues, is satisfied in this litigation.6 We need not [98 S.Ct. 913] reach the issue. Before an

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examination is made to determine whether cumulative punishments for the two offenses are constitutionally permissible, it is necessary, following our practice of avoiding constitutional decisions where possible, to determine whether Congress intended to subject the defendant to multiple penalties for the single criminal transaction in which he engaged. Jeffers v. United States, 432 U.S. 137, 155 (1977). Indeed, the Government concedes that

there remains at least a possibility that Congress, although constitutionally free to impose additional penalties for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in a case like the present one, has otherwise disclosed its intention not to do so.

Brief for United States 11. We believe that several tools of statutory construction applied to the statutes "in a case like the present one" -- where the Government relied on the same proofs to support the convictions under both statutes -- require the conclusion that Congress cannot be said to

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have authorized the imposition of the additional penalty of § 924(c) for commission of bank robbery with firearms already subject to enhanced punishment under § 2113(d). Cf. Gore v. United States, supra.

III

First is the legislative history of § 924(c). That provision, which was enacted as part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, was not included in the original Gun Control bill, but was offered as an amendment on the House floor by Representative Poff. 114 Cong.Rec. 22231 (1968).7 In his statement immediately following his introduction of the amendment, Representative Poff observed:

For the sake of legislative history, it should be noted that my substitute is not intended to apply to title 18, sections 111, 112, or 113 which already define the penalties for the use of a firearm in assaulting officials, with sections 2113 or 2114 concerning armed robberies of the mail or banks, with section 2231 concerning armed assaults upon process servers, or with chapter 44, which defines other firearm felonies.

Id. at 22232. This statement is clearly probative of a legislative judgment that the purpose of § 924(c) is already served whenever the substantive federal offense provides enhanced...

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