556 U.S. 568 (2009), 08-5274, Dean v. United States

Docket Nº:08-5274
Citation:556 U.S. 568, 129 S.Ct. 1849, 173 L.Ed.2d 785, 77 U.S.L.W. 4357
Party Name:Christopher Michael DEAN, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
Case Date:April 29, 2009
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 568

556 U.S. 568 (2009)

129 S.Ct. 1849, 173 L.Ed.2d 785, 77 U.S.L.W. 4357

Christopher Michael DEAN, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES

No. 08-5274

United States Supreme Court

April 29, 2009

Argued March 4, 2009.

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

[129 S.Ct. 1850] Syllabus [*]An individual convicted for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to any violent or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such a crime, receives a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime. 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(1)(A)(i). The mandatory minimum increases to 7 years "if the firearm is brandished" and to 10 years "if the firearm is discharged." §§924(c)(1)(A)(ii), (iii).

Petitioner Dean was convicted of conspiring to commit a bank robbery and discharging a firearm during an armed robbery. Because the firearm was "discharged" during the robbery, Dean was sentenced to a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term on the firearm count. §924(c)(1)(A)(iii). On appeal, he contended [129 S.Ct. 1851] that the discharge was accidental, and that §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) requires proof that the defendant intended to discharge the firearm. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that no proof of intent is required.

Held:

Section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) requires no separate proof of intent. The 10-year mandatory minimum applies if a gun is discharged in the course of a violent or drug trafficking crime, whether on purpose or by accident. Pp. 1853 -1856. (a) Subsection (iii) provides a minimum 10-year sentence "if the firearm is discharged." It does not require that the discharge be done knowingly or intentionally, or otherwise contain words of limitation. This Court "ordinarily resist[s] reading words or elements into a statute that do not appear on its face." Bates v. United States, 522 U.S. 23, 29, 118 S.Ct. 285, 139 L.Ed.2d 215. Congress's use of the passive voice further indicates that subsection (iii) does not require proof of intent. Cf. Watson v. United States, 552 U.S. ___, ___, 128 S.Ct. 579, 584, 169 L.Ed.2d 472. The statute's structure also suggests no such limitation. Congress expressly included an intent requirement for the 7-year mandatory minimum for brandishing a firearm by separately defining "brandish" to require that the firearm be displayed "in order to intimidate" another person. §924(c)(4). Congress did not, however, separately define "discharge" to include an intent requirement. It is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally when including particular language in one section of a statute but not in another. Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 23, 104 S.Ct. 296, 78 L.Ed.2d 17. Contrary to Dean's contention, the phrase "during and in relation to" in the opening paragraph of § 924(c)(1)(A) does

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not modify "is discharged," which appears in a separate subsection and in a different voice than the principal paragraph. "[I]n relation to" is most naturally read to modify only the nearby verbs "uses" and "carries." This reading will not lead to the absurd results posited by Dean. Pp. 1853 - 1854.

(b) Dean argues that subsection (iii) must be limited to intentional discharges in order to give effect to the statute's progression of harsher penalties for increasingly culpable conduct. While it is unusual to impose criminal punishment for the consequences of purely accidental conduct, it is not unusual to punish individuals for the unintended consequences of their unlawful acts. The fact that the discharge may be accidental does not mean that the defendant is blameless. The sentencing enhancement accounts for the risk of harm resulting from the manner in which the crime is carried out, for which the defendant is responsible. See Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 553, 122 S.Ct. 2406, 153 L.Ed.2d 524. An individual bringing a loaded weapon to commit a crime runs the risk that the gun will discharge accidentally. A gunshot—whether accidental or intended—increases the risk that others will be injured, that people will panic, or that violence will be used in response. It also traumatizes bystanders, as it did here. Pp. 1855 -1856. (c) Because the statutory text and structure demonstrate that the discharge provision does not contain an intent requirement, the rule of lenity is not implicated in this case.

517 F.3d 1224, affirmed.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., and Breyer, J., filed dissenting opinions.

[129 S.Ct. 1852] Scott J. Forster, Calhoun, GA, for petitioner.

Deanne E. Maynard, Washington, DC, for respondent.

Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Northwestern University, Supreme Court Practicum, Chicago, IL, Scott J. Forster, Counsel of Record, Calhoun, GA, Jeffrey T. Green, Quin M. Sorenson, Amy L. Hanke, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

Edwin S. Kneedler, Acting Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Rita M. Glavin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Deanne E. Maynard, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Vijay Shanker, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for United States.

OPINION

Page 570

Roberts, Chief Justice

Accidents happen. Sometimes they happen to individuals committing crimes with loaded guns. The question here is whether extra punishment Congress imposed for the discharge of a gun during certain crimes applies when the gun goes off accidentally.

I

Title 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(1)(A) criminalizes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to any violent or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such a crime. An individual convicted of that offense receives a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime. §924(c)(1)(A)(i). The mandatory minimum increases to 7 years "if the firearm is brandished" and to 10 years "if the firearm is discharged." §§924(c)(1)(A)(ii), (iii).

In this case, a masked man entered a bank, waved a gun, and yelled at everyone to get down. He then walked behind the teller counter and started removing money from the teller stations. He grabbed bills with his left hand, holding the gun in his right. At one point, he reached over a teller to remove money from her drawer. As he was collecting the money, the gun discharged, leaving a bullet hole in the partition between two stations. The robber cursed and dashed out of the bank. Witnesses later testified that he seemed surprised that the gun had gone off. No one was hurt. App. 16–19, 24, 27, 47–48, 79.

Police arrested Christopher Michael Dean and Ricardo Curtis Lopez for the crime. Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit a robbery affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1951(a), and aiding and abetting each other in using, carrying, possessing, and discharging a firearm during an armed robbery, in violation of §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) and §2. App. 11–12. At trial, Dean admitted that he had committed the robbery, id., at 76-81, and

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a jury found him guilty on both the robbery and firearm counts. The District Court sentenced Dean to a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison on the firearm count, because the firearm "discharged" during the robbery. §924(c)(1)(A)(iii); App. 136.

Dean appealed, contending that the discharge was accidental, and that the sentencing enhancement in §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) requires proof that the defendant intended to discharge the firearm. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that separate proof of intent was not required. 517 F.3d 1224, 1229 (CA11 2008). [129 S.Ct. 1853] That decision created a conflict among the Circuits over whether the accidental discharge of a firearm during the specified crimes gives rise to the 10-year mandatory minimum. See United States v. Brown, 449 F.3d 154 (CADC 2006) (holding that it does not). We granted certiorari to resolve that conflict. 555 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 593, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (2008).

II

Section 924(c)(1)(A) provides:

"[A]ny person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime . . . uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime—

"(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;

"(ii) if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and

"(iii) if the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years."

The principal paragraph defines a complete offense and the subsections "explain how defendants are to 'be sentenced.'" Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 552, 122 S.Ct. 2406, 153 L.Ed.2d 524 (2002). Subsection (i) "sets a catchall minimum" sentence of not less than

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five years. Id., at 552–553, 122 S.Ct. 2406. Subsections (ii) and (iii) increase the minimum penalty if the firearm "is brandished" or "is discharged." See id., at 553, 122 S.Ct. 2406. The parties disagree over whether §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) contains a requirement that the defendant intend to discharge the firearm. We hold that it does not.

A

"We start, as always, with the language of the statute." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 431, 120 S.Ct. 1479, 146 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000). The text of subsection (iii) provides that a defendant shall be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years "if the firearm is discharged." It does not require that the discharge be done knowingly or intentionally, or otherwise contain words of limitation. As we...

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