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High Court Allows Longer Sentences for Gun Crimes

(CN) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a defendant convicted of using or carrying a gun while committing a violent or drug-trafficking crime is subject to the highest mandatory minimum sentence, unless another provision of law imposes an even higher minimum sentence.

Defendants face a minimum of five years in prison for violating 18 U.S.C. §924(c) by carrying or using a deadly weapon to commit "any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime."

The high court unanimously rejected the claim of two convicts, Kevin Abbott and Carlos Rashad Gould, who argued that five years should not have been tacked on to their higher sentences for other crimes.

"They claim exemption from punishment under §924(c) because they were sentenced to greater mandatory minimum prison terms for convictions on other counts charging different offense," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court.

Abbott and Gould pointed to a clause which states that the five-year sentence shall be imposed "[e]xcept to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by [the firearms provision] or by any other provision of law."

The justices agreed with the lower courts that this "except" clause refers to "a greater minimum sentence ... otherwise provided."

"We hold ... that a defendant is subject to a mandatory, consecutive sentence for a §924(c) conviction, and is not spared from that sentence by virtue of receiving a higher mandatory minimum on a different count of conviction," Ginsburg wrote.

She said an offender is not subject to "stacked sentences."

Abbott was sentenced to 15 years in prison for possessing a firearm as a felon, plus 5 years for using or carrying a gun during a drug offense or violent crime.

Gould received 10 years in prison for a drug-trafficking crime, and an additional 5 years for the firearm violation.

Two federal appeals courts and the Supreme Court upheld their sentences.

Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the court's first ruling of the 2010 term.

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