Living in a society of laws is necessary for the protection of individual rights and freedoms. However, legislators and judges must strike a careful balance between deterring criminal actions and enacting punishments that are harmful in their severity. This issue is the focus on many debates regarding mandatory minimum sentences.
Mandatory Minimums and Firearm Use
Though Americans may not agree on how to address the problem, gun violence has long been a topic of political debate. Section 924 (c) hoped to answer some of these concerns by setting mandatory minimums for “crimes of violence” that involved firearms.
Crimes of violence typically charged in federal indictments (meaning, under Section 924) include homicide, robbery, and assaults. Even if no one was injured by a gun, the mandatory minimums laid out in this statute may still apply to anyone who brandishes or discharges a firearm. Legally, brandishing a firearm means showing it to another person; discharging a firearm means firing or shooting it.
What Is 18 U.S.C. Section 924 (c)?
18 U.S.C. Section 924 (c) requires one of several mandatory minimum penalties depending on the circumstances of the offense. Offenses under this section involve the use or carrying of a firearm during and involving a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or in the furtherance of those crimes. The charge under this section must run consecutive to other sentences imposed for other related offenses.
The statute provides (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)):
(A) Except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by this subsection or by any other provision of law, any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including acrime of violence or drug trafficking crime that provides for an enhanced punishment if committed by the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or device) for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of theUnited States, uses or carries afirearm, 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.
When Do These Mandatory Minimums Apply?
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, in fiscal year 2019 76,538 cases were reported to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Of those cases, 3,142 cases were convictions under 18 U.S.C. Section 924 (c). 96.5% of the 924 (c) offenders were men:
- 52.6% were Black
- 23.7% were Hispanic
- 21.1% were White
- 2.6% were other races.
Their average age was 33. All but one 924 (c) offender was sentenced to prison. The average sentence was 138 months, or 11 and a half years.
Almost all (87.6%) of these 924 (c) convicted of another offense:
- 53.8% for drug trafficking
- 27.1% for robbery, and
- 8.7% for another firearm offense.
The average guideline minimum decreased from 203 months to 185 months from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019. This means the guideline minimum is still over 15 years—a hefty sentence.
The number in which firearm offenders who have been convicted of an offense that carries a mandatory minimum has remained stable. The number of offenders who have been convicted of such offenses that carry mandatory minimums has decreased significantly since 2010. The mandatory minimums, however, continue to affect Black offenders more than any other race.
Should Section 924 (c) Be Changed?
Section 924(c) has survived several constitutional challenges. The mandatory minimums were added to Section 924 (c) as a floor amended to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Public concern over violence related to drug trafficking led Congress to expand Section 924 (c). But as more offenders received life sentences many courts began to doubt the fairness of sentencing offenders to life for multiple uses of a firearm during a single crime. Firearms should not be in the hands of violent offenders but consecutive or “stacking” of sentences can create very lengthy or life offenses for firearm offenses. Additionally, Section 924 (c) is sometimes applied to nonviolent firearm owners.
If you or a loved one has been indicted for federal firearm offenses under Section 924 (c), seek counsel of a criminal defense attorney who has experience in handling federal criminal cases at Grewal Law PLLC.
Call us at (888) 211-5798 to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys. We serve clients throughout Michigan.