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CRS — Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The 18 U.S.C. 924(c) Tack-On in Cases Involving Drugs or Violence

October 24, 2013

Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The 18 U.S.C. 924(c) Tack-On in Cases Involving Drugs or Violence (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Section 924(c) requires the imposition of one of a series of mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment upon conviction for misconduct involving the firearm and the commission of a federal crime of violence or a federal drug trafficking offense. The terms vary according to the type of firearm used, the manner of the firearm’s involvement, and whether the conviction involves a single, first-time offense. Liability extends to co-conspirators and to those who aid or abet in the commission of a violation of the section.

If a machine gun, silencer, short barreled rifle, short barreled shotgun, or body armor is involved, the offense is punished more severely. If the firearm is brandished or discharged, the offense is punished more severely. Repeat offenders are likewise punished more severely. Twenty-five-year mandatory minimum terms for multiple offenses must be served consecutively. The mandatory minimum terms range from imprisonment for five years to imprisonment for life; consecutive mandatory minimum terms may exceed 100 years. In each case the maximum term is life imprisonment.

The United States Sentencing Commission has suggested that Congress consider amending Section 924(c) to (1) address the “stacking” of 25-year charges for multiple offenses; (2) require a prior conviction to trigger repeat offender enhancements; (3) provide sentencing courts with discretion over whether to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences; and (4) clarify the statutory definitions of the terms used in Section 924(c).

Section 924(c) has withstood constitutional challenges based on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms; the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments prohibition; the Sixth Amendment’s right to jury trial; the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy proscription; and the Constitution’s structural limitations on preservation of the separation of powers and on Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause.

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