Federal judges can take into account the lengthy mandatory minimum sentence a defendant must serve under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c) for using a firearm in connection with a violent or drug trafficking offense in deciding what sentence to impose for the predicate offense, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled April 3 in Dean v. United States.
Levon Dean Jr. was convicted of two counts of robbery and two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence under Sec. 924(c).
Sec. 924(c) imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for using or possessing a firearm in connection with a violent or drug trafficking offense.  The mandatory minimum is five years for a first conviction, and 25 years for a second conviction.
The statute requires the mandatory minimum be “in addition to” the punishment for the predicate violent or drug trafficking offense, and must run consecutively to the predicate offense.
Dean was subject to a mandatory minimum of 30 years.  He argued the sentencing judge should take into account that he will have to serve this lengthy mandatory minimum in calculating his sentences for the predicate robberies.  He argued for a one day sentence on the robberies.
The usual sentencing range for the robberies was 84-105 months.
The sentencing judge believed a sentence of one day plus 30 years was appropriate for the case, but concluded such a sentence was prohibited by the Sec. 924(c).  The judge believed the robbery sentences had to be considered independently from the mandatory minimums, and viewed by themselves, the robbery sentences merited more than one day.
The judge imposed 40 month concurrent sentences on the robberies.  When added to the 360-month mandatory minimum, the total sentence was 400 months.
The Eighth Circuit rejected Dean’s argument that the sentencing judge could consider the mandatory minimums in imposing sentences for the predicate offenses.
But the Supreme Court agreed with Dean, in a unanimous opinion.
18 U.S.C. Sec. 3553, which sets out the general factors judges are to consider in imposing sentence, instructs judges to “impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary.”
“As a general matter … a court imposing a sentence on one count of conviction [can] consider sentences imposed on other counts,” the Court said.
The Court rejected the Government’s argument that the “in addition to” language of Sec. 924(c) prohibits a judge from considering the total aggregate sentence to be imposed.  The “in addition to” language “says nothing about the length of a non-Sec. 924(c) sentence, much less about what information a court may consider in determining that sentence,” the Court said.
“Whether the sentence for the predicate offense is one day or one decade, a district court does not violate the terms of Sec. 924(c) so long as it imposes the mandatory minimum ‘in addition to’ the sentence for the violent or drug trafficking crime,” the Court held.
The Court also rejected the Government’s argument that the mandatory consecutive sentence requirement prohibited considering the total aggregate sentence.  “The bar on imposing concurrent sentences does not affect a court’s discretion to consider a mandatory minimum when calculating each individual sentence,” the Court said.
The Court noted Congress could have written Sec. 924 to expressly prohibit shortening a predicate offense’s sentence, but Congress had not done so.