Lora v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: June 16, 2023
  • Case #: 22-49
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Jackson, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

When a federal court imposes multiple prison sentences, it can choose whether to run the sentences concurrently or consecutively under 18 U.S.C. § 3584. The exception under subsection (c) of 924 provides that, “no term of imprisonment imposed on a person under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment.” 924(c)(1)(D)(ii).

In 2002, Lora was accused of being a leader of a drug-dealing group from the Bronx, after members of the group assassinated a rival drug dealer. Lora was convicted of aiding and abetting a violation of §924(j)(1), which penalizes “a person who, in the course of a violation of subsection (c), causes the death of a person through the use of a firearm,” where “the killing is a murder.” A violation of subsection (c) occurs when a person “uses or carries a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime” or “possesses a firearm in furtherance of any such crime.” Lora was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs. At sentencing, the District Court first held that it lacked discretion to run the 924(j) sentence concurrently with the drug-distribution-conspiracy sentence; and second, that the five-year mandatory minimum sentences applied to Lora’s sentencing under 924(c)(1)(A). Lora was sentenced to consecutive terms for both counts. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s judgment, which reinforced a conflict among the Courts of Appeals. Sections 924(c) and 924(j) criminalize the use, carrying, and possession of firearms in connection with other crimes. Subsection (c) mandates that a term of imprisonment imposed “under this subsection” must run consecutively with other sentences. Subsection (j), however, contains no such mandate. The plain language of subsection (c) applies only to the terms of imprisonment within subjection (c). Furthermore, subsection (j) only references the offense elements outlined in subsection(c), not the penalties. The Supreme Court held that the District Court had discretion to impose Lora’s 924(j) sentence concurrently with another sentence. The Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings.

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