OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The Biden administration has been stung again with another unanimous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which of course, included his nominee and the court’s newest member, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
In a 9-0 ruling, the justices found that some individuals previously convicted of gun crimes may receive reduced prison sentences. In those cases, gun-related offenses can be served concurrently, The Epoch Times reported.
“Congress could certainly have designed the penalty scheme at issue here differently. But Congress did not do any of these things. And we must implement the design Congress chose,” Jackson wrote in the ruling.
The Epoch Times noted further:
The case involves two subsections of 18 U.S.C. 924. Subsection (c) outlines offenses and penalties, and states that “no term of imprisonment imposed on a person under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment imposed on the person.” Subsection (j), which was added more recently, outlines other offenses and corresponding penalties. It does not include language about forbidding concurrent sentences.
District courts typically have the discretion to determine whether prison sentences should run concurrently or consecutively. However, specific laws can prohibit the imposition of concurrent sentences in certain circumstances, the outlet noted.
Efrain Lora, who filed a lawsuit challenging the statute, was found guilty of aiding and abetting an individual involved in drug trafficking or a violent crime while carrying or using a firearm. Lora was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Lora, along with three accomplices, was involved in cocaine trafficking and committed a murder of a rival drug dealer in 2002 in New York City, stemming from a territorial dispute. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, who George W. Bush appointed, sentenced Lora based on a law that prohibits concurrent sentences for offenses that involve one of the crimes for which Lora was convicted. Lora received a 25-year prison term for the conspiracy charge, followed by an additional five years for the other crime. An appeals court later upheld the decision.
Lora also argued that his sentences should have been concurrent, noting that the law cited by the judge didn’t cover the aiding and abetting offenses.
Federal prosecutors agreed and argued on appeal that the lower courts got it right and that Supreme Court had no need to review the case. But all nine justices sided with the plaintiff.
“Subsection (c)’s consecutive-sentence mandate applies only to the terms of imprisonment prescribed within subsection (c). A sentence imposed under subsection (j) does not qualify,” Jackson wrote. “Subsection (j) is located outside subsection (c) and does not call for imposing any sentence from subsection (c).”
“Combining the two subsections would set them on a collision course; indeed, in some cases, the maximum sentence would be lower than the minimum sentence,” she added.
The result of the ruling is a vacated prison sentence. The high court also remanded the case back to a lower court for resentencing.
“We are thrilled that the Court preserved the longstanding default of discretion in criminal sentencing, restoring courts’ discretion to impose either concurrent or consecutive sentences in this case and others like it,” Lawrence Rosenberg, part of the legal team representing Lora, said in a statement to news outlets. “The Court’s decision to enforce the plain text that Congress enacted will help ensure that a defendant’s sentence fits both the crime and the individual.”
During oral arguments, Jackson also voiced skepticism.
“I don’t understand why the government believes in this case that it’s entitled to the penalty structure that comes with Section (c) if a person is convicted of (c) when (j) doesn’t say and it could easily have said any person who’s convicted of subsection (c), et cetera,” she told Assistant to the Solicitor General Erica Ross. “I think it is certainly true that Congress could have been clearer in this provision,”
Ross answered. “My point was simply that it also doesn’t say what [Lora] is suggesting.”