Monday, February 02, 2015

Mandatory consecutive life sentence under 18 U.S.C. sect. 924(j) affirmed

US v. Bran - Appellant Bran, alleged leader of a violent MS-13 clique, was convicted of three counts related to the murder of one person, and two further counts in relation to the attempted murder of a second person.  In his appeal, Bran challenged the sufficiency of the evidence of Count 3, which charged him with conspiracy to commit murder under 18 U.S.C. sect. 924(j), and for the district court’s imposition of a mandatory consecutive life sentence for that conviction.

In count 3, Bran was charged under three criminal statutes, 18 U.S.C. sects. 924(c)(1)(A), 924(j)(1) and 2; the first of these prohibits the use or carrying of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense or crime of violence, or possession of a firearm in furtherance of one of those crimes, and violation of the statute carries a minimum of five years’ imprisonment, which must run consecutively to any other sentence.  Under the second statute, 924(j), any person who causes the death of another through the use of a firearm in the course of committing a violation of the first statute, 924(c), could receive the death penalty or imprisonment for 10 years to life.

With respect to the relationship between sects. 924(c) and 924(j), the Fourth Circuit held that because Congress made 924(j) separate from 924(c), it must have intended for 924(j) to have the effect of enhancing the sentence imposed for a conviction under 924(c).  To interpret otherwise, according to the panel, would lead to the conclusion that a person with a 924(c) conviction which resulted in murder could receive a more lenient sentence than if the murder never occurred.  Further, the panel held that four out of the five circuits that considered this issue have held that 924(j) requires mandatory consecutive sentencing.

In contrast, the dissent of this case disagreed with the majority about the nature of the relationship between these two statutes, finding that 924(j) is discrete from 924(c), and the express statutory mandate of 924(c) should not be applied to 924(j). Secondly, Congress enacted 924(j) to “extend the death penalty to second-degree murders,” which does not result in a more lenient sentencing scheme, so 924(j) should not be interpreted as requiring mandatory consecutive sentencing.

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