Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Firearm Sentencing Law

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Firearm Sentencing Law

( – The US Supreme Court has heard arguments in a dispute over the definition of “serious drug offenses” and the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The act provides a “three strikes” law that allows sentences to be extended from 10 to 15 years in prison for a person convicted of a firearms felony if they have a history including “serious drug offenses.”

The law has been applied differently in different states, so lawyers asked the Supreme Court to clarify the matter.

The Justices examined two cases, Brown v. United States and Jackson v. United States, which both involved ACCA. The Court was asked whether the federal drug laws in place at the time of the firearms offense were applicable, at the time of the drug offense, or at the time of sentencing for that offense.

Attorneys for both Brown and Jackson argue that the federal drug laws in place at the time of the drug offense should not apply but that their sentencing should take account of more recent and less stringent drug laws. By contrast, the US Solicitor General’s Office contends that sentencing should incorporate the drug schedules that were in effect at the time of the drug offense.

In the hearing on November 27, Justice Ketanji Brown said, “A federal judge applies the sentencing law at the time of sentencing.” Meanwhile, Justice Amy Coney Barrett questioned why two people who were convicted of a crime at the same time should be sentenced differently based on when they were sentenced.

Austin Raynor, attorney for the federal government, asked the Justices to rule that the drug schedules in place at the time of the drug offenses apply, while Andrew Adler, representing Mr. Jackson, said the relevant occasion was that of the firearms offense.

The confusion arises because drug laws vary from state to state, and some states have reduced penalties for, or even decriminalized, some drugs, such as marijuana, in recent years. The Supreme Court Justices, who also appeared somewhat confused about the answer, did not provide a ruling on the day.

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