520 U.S. 1 (1997), 95-1605, United States v. Gonzales

Docket Nº:Case No. 95-1605
Citation:520 U.S. 1, 117 S.Ct. 1032, 137 L.Ed.2d 132, 65 U.S.L.W. 4157
Party Name:UNITED STATES v. GONZALES et al.
Case Date:March 03, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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520 U.S. 1 (1997)

117 S.Ct. 1032, 137 L.Ed.2d 132, 65 U.S.L.W. 4157

UNITED STATES

v.

GONZALES et al.

Case No. 95-1605

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1997

Argued December 11, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

All three respondents were convicted in New Mexico courts and sentenced to prison terms on state charges arising from the use of guns by two of them to hold up undercover officers during a drug sting operation. After they began to serve their state sentences, respondents were convicted on various drug and related federal charges connected to the sting operation, and of using firearms during those crimes in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In ordering their imprisonment, the District Court directed that the portion of their federal sentences attributable to the drug convictions run concurrently with their state sentences, with the remaining 60-month sentences required by § 924(c) to run consecutively to both. Among other rulings, the Tenth Circuit vacated the firearms sentences on the ground that they should have run concurrently with the state prison terms. The court found § 924(c)'s language to be ambiguous, resorted to the legislative history, and held that a § 924(c) sentence may run concurrently with a previously imposed, already operational state sentence, but not with another federal sentence.

Held:

Section § 924(c)'s plain language— i. e., "the sentence. . . under this subsection [shall not] run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment" (emphasis added)—forbids a federal district court to direct that the section's mandatory 5-year firearms sentence run concurrently with any other prison term, whether state or federal. Read naturally, the section's word "any" has an expansive meaning that is not limited to federal sentences, and so must be interpreted as referring to all "term[s]

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of imprisonment," including those imposed by state courts. Cf., e. g., United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez, 511 U.S. 350, 358. Unlike the Tenth Circuit, this Court sees nothing remarkable (much less ambiguous) about Congress' decision, in drafting § 924(c), to prohibit concurrent sentences instead of simply mandating consecutive ones. Moreover, given the straightforward statutory command, there is no reason to resort to legislative history. Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 254. Indeed, the legislative history excerpt relied upon by the Tenth Circuit only muddies the waters. Contrary to that court's interpretation, § 924(c)'s prohibition applies only to the section's mandatory firearms sentence, and does not limit a district court's normal authority under § 3584 (a) to order that other federal sentences run concurrently with or consecutively to other state or federal prison terms. Pp. 4-11.

65 F.3d 814, vacated and remanded.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined, post, p. 12. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, J., joined, post, p. 14.

Miguel A. Estrada argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.

Edward Bustamante, by appointment of the Court, 519 U.S. 804, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Angela Arellanes, by appointment of the Court, 519 U.S. 804, Roberto Albertorio, by appointment of the Court, 519 U.S. 962, and Carter G. Phillips. [*]

Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to decide whether a federal court may direct that a prison sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) run concurrently with a state-imposed sentence, even though § 924(c)

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provides that a sentence imposed under that statute "shall [not] . . . run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment." We hold that it may not.

I

Respondents were arrested in a drug sting operation during which two of them pulled guns on undercover police officers. All three were convicted in New Mexico courts on charges arising from the holdup. The state courts sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 13 to 17 years. After they began to serve their state sentences, respondents were convicted in federal court of committing various drug offenses connected to the sting operation, and conspiring to do so, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. They were also convicted of using firearms during and in relation to those drug trafficking crimes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Respondents received sentences ranging from 120 to 147 months in prison, of which 60 months reflected the mandatory sentence required for their firearms convictions. Pursuant to § 924(c), the District Court ordered that the portion of respondents' federal sentences attributable to the drug convictions run concurrently with their state sentences, with the remaining 60 months due to the firearms offenses to run consecutively to both.

The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit vacated respondents' sentences for the firearms violations, on the ground that the § 924(c) sentences should have run concurrently with the state prison terms. 65 F.3d 814 (1995). (The court also vacated respondents' substantive drug convictions and dealt with various other sentencing issues not before us.) Although the Court of Appeals recognized that other Circuits had uniformly "held that § 924(c)'s plain language prohibits sentences imposed under that statute from running concurrently with state sentences," it nevertheless thought that "a literal reading of the statutory language would produce an absurd result." Id., at 819. Feeling

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obliged to "venture into the thicket of legislative history," id., at 820 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), the court found a line in a Senate Committee Report indicating that " 'the mandatory sentence under the revised subsection 924(c) [should] be served prior to the start of the sentence for the underlying or any other offense,' " ibid. (quoting S. Rep. No. 98-225, pp. 313-314 (1983) (hereinafter S. Rep.)) (emphasis deleted). If this statement were applied literally, respondents would have to serve first their state sentences, then their 5-year federal firearms sentences, and finally the sentences for their narcotics convictions—even though the narcotics sentences normally would have run concurrently with the state sentences, since they all arose out of the same criminal activity. 65 F. 3d, at 821. To avoid this irrational result, the court held that " § 924(c)'s mandatory five-year sentence may run concurrently with a previously imposed state sentence that a defendant has already begun to serve. " Id., at 819.

We granted certiorari, 518 U.S. 1003, and now vacate and remand.

II

Our analysis begins, as always, with the statutory text. Section 924(c) (1) provides:

"Whoever, during and in relation to any . . . drug trafficking crime . . . for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime . . . , be sentenced to imprisonment for five years . . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not place on probation or suspend the sentence of any person convicted of a violation of this subsection, nor shall the term of imprisonment imposed under this subsection run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment including that imposed for the. . . drug trafficking crime in which the firearm was used or carried." 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (1) (emphasis added).

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The question we face is whether the phrase "any other term of imprisonment" "means what it says, or whether it should be limited to some subset" of prison sentences, Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4 (1980)—namely, only federal sentences. Read naturally, the word "any" has an expansive meaning, that is, "one or some indiscriminately of whatever kind." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 97 (1976). Congress did not add any language limiting the breadth of that word, and so we must read § 924(c) as referring to all "term[s] of imprisonment," including those imposed by state courts. Cf. United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez, 511 U.S. 350, 358 (1994) (noting that statute referring to "any law enforcement officer" includes "federal, state, or local" officers); Collector v. Hubbard, 12 Wall. 1, 15 (1871) (stating "it is quite clear" that a statute prohibiting the filing of suit "in any court" "includes the State courts as well as the Federal courts," because "there is not a word in the [statute] tending to show that the words 'in any court' are not used in their ordinary sense"). There is no basis in the text for limiting § 924(c) to federal sentences.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens suggests that the word "any" as used in the first sentence of § 924(c) "unquestionably has the meaning 'any federal.' " Post, at 14. In that first sentence, however, Congress explicitly limited the scope of the phrase "any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime" to those "for which [a defendant] may be prosecuted in a court of the United States." Given that Congress expressly limited the phrase "any crime" to only federal crimes, we find it significant that no similar restriction modifies the phrase "any other term of imprisonment," which appears only two sentences later and is at issue in this case. See Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 23 (1983) (" 'Where Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion' ").

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The Court of Appeals also found ambiguity...

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