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View Full Version : The Supremes sing again: Dean v. United States


Ricky B
April 30, 2009, 11:02 PM
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.

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 federal law, and aiding and abetting each other in using, carrying, possessing, and discharging a firearm during an armed robbery, also in violation of federal law. At trial, Dean admitted that he had committed the robbery, and 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.

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.

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.” [Emphasis added.]

The issue in the case was whether §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) contains a requirement that the defendant intend to discharge the firearm. As the Chief Justice succinctly put it in the opening line of the court's opinion:

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.

The Supreme Court held yesterday that the extra punishment does apply. There is no requirement that the defendant intend to discharge the firearm.

The extra punishment here is in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime. Mr. Dean will be spending many years behind bars.

The decision was 7-2, and the two dissenters were Breyer and Stevens, who also dissented in D.C. v. Heller (finding the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership).

Al Norris
April 30, 2009, 11:21 PM
I have yet to read the decision, but it appears to be a good one. The statute is unambiguous here. Did the firearm discharge during the commission of the underlying crime?

Seems the answer is, Yes.

44 AMP
May 1, 2009, 03:12 PM
anywhere in the statute as quoted. Seems like a good decision.

grymster2007
May 1, 2009, 03:18 PM
The decision was 7-2, and the two dissenters were Breyer and Stevens Surprise, surprise. Law abiding citizens don't have the RKBA, but criminals popping guns off in the commision of a crime, should not face additional punishment for doing so... regardless what the law states. Nice.:rolleyes:

B. Lahey
May 1, 2009, 03:20 PM
Didn't see the word "intent"

But it's often implied, and can be read into the law by the courts. And unless a law is very carefully worded to clearly state that it is a "strict liability" type deal, they often will.

Not here, though.

BillCA
May 1, 2009, 04:31 PM
Seems reasonable to me.

Anytime you bring a firearm into a crime, even lacking the intent to use it against anyone, there is a chance that it will discharge accidentally or cause someone to react violently to the threat on their own life.

Chief Justice Roberts had it right in the majority opinion:
Those criminals wishing to avoid the penalty for an inadvertent discharge can lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care during the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime, leave the gun at home, or —best yet—avoid committing the felony in the first place.

Doggieman
May 1, 2009, 05:16 PM
thanks for this interesting thread. I'll have to read the opinion now. :)

publius42
May 2, 2009, 07:07 AM
http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-5274.ZS.html

I read the two dissents and then the opinion. All are short. The experience made me wonder why they even took the case. So silly.

B. Lahey
May 2, 2009, 09:59 AM
The experience made me wonder why they even took the case.

Probably because there is an ongoing debate how much "strict liability" should be in the criminal law. Lots of people think crimes without intent should mostly be civil infractions, and dislike seeing crimes without mens rea put people in jail for decades.

I am one of them, but there are exceptions. This is one of them, I think.

PoorSoulInJersey
May 2, 2009, 10:15 AM
It kind of reminds me of the Plaxico Buress case.

If someone discharges a firearm in public, intentionally or accidentally, with no unlawful threat toward them, there should be some kind of penalty. I'm not saying life in prison, but it shouldn't go ignored either.

Doggieman
May 2, 2009, 10:22 AM
I think they took it because there was a split in the circuit appeals courts or something.

Blackstone's quote in the middle of the majority opinion says it all.

And I'm generally on the side of the defense.

Al Norris
May 2, 2009, 10:23 AM
The experience made me wonder why they even took the case.
From the decision:
The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that separate proof of intent was not required. 517 F. 3d 1224, 1229 (CA11 2008). 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. ____ (2008).
We had a split between the 11th Circuit and the 3rd Circuit. The SCOTUS has now resolved the issue.

I read the decision as saying that mens rea is met in the first instance of the violent act. Any and all unintended consequences that may follow, are linked to that initial act. Hence no other intent need be considered, to sustain the additional sentencing, should the other (statutory) conditions be present.

publius42
May 2, 2009, 11:28 AM
Hmm...

How long have we had different Circuit opinions on the nature of the 2nd amendment? Since Emerson?

Doggieman
May 3, 2009, 03:26 AM
Long time, but 2A issues are much scarier for the court than sentencing issues ;)

maestro pistolero
May 3, 2009, 03:30 AM
It kind of reminds me of the Plaxico Buress case.

If someone discharges a firearm in public, intentionally or accidentally, with no unlawful threat toward them, there should be some kind of penalty. I'm not saying life in prison, but it shouldn't go ignored either.

How does it remind you of the Plaxico Buress case?
In the Burris case there was no intent to harm, no crime other than a violation of unconstitutional gun law, and no victim.

Doggieman
May 3, 2009, 03:45 AM
In the Burris case there was no intent to harm, no crime other than a violation of unconstitutional gun law, and no victim.


Well, the 'constitutionality' of the law hasn't yet been challenged. It would be closer to the Burress case if he had been charged with a more serious crime than simple criminal possession of a firearm, given that his gun accidentally went off.

But everyone here should know that if you're doing nothing illegal, accidental actions generally can't be criminally held against you (unless they are grossly negligent). Once you've broken even the slightest law, then you're looking at possible strict liability for anything that goes wrong in the course of that action.

For example: You bump into a person, he falls, hits his head on the curb, and dies. You may get sued but you won't be prosecuted. BUT, if you push him (battery), he falls, dies, you could be looking at manslaughter or negligent homicide.

si vis pacem, para b
May 4, 2009, 01:19 AM
It is incredible what some lawyers will come up with.

If that bullet happened to strike and kill someone "accidentally" would his defense say that the client should not be charged with murder / man slaughter because the intention was to intimidate and not kill?

Boy sometimes things like this make me sick.

B. Lahey
May 4, 2009, 11:44 AM
Boy sometimes things like this make me sick.

But that's the way it works. It's an adversarial system, one side accuses the fellow of being a terrible bastard who should be locked up forever to protect society from his unholy acts, and the other side says he's a saint, a pillar of the community, the finest man to ever walk the earth. Then the jury/judge looks at it all and usually comes down on the "unholy terror" side.

It's better than the phony claptrap some other nations have come up with where everybody pretends to be impartial.:)

Yellowfin
May 4, 2009, 03:11 PM
This could be very useful in establishing that the presence of firearms is not a crime, but requires commission of a crime for it to be anything wrong at all. GREAT stuff for working into an arguement in future cases defending carry rights. :D:cool: