Supreme Court Gives Judges Flexibility In Mandatory Minimum Cases


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The US Supreme Court on April 4 handed down a unanimous decision in Dean v. United States, giving federal judges greater flexibility in mandatory minimum cases—an aim activists have long been demanding. Advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums filed a brief in support of the petitioner in the case.

As Bloomberg BNA reports, Levon Dean Jr, of Sioux City, faced consecutive mandatory minimum sentences for use of a firearm in two robberies of local drug dealers. The two mandatory sentences added up to 30 years: a five-year minimum for the first offense and a 25-year minimum for the second. Because of the severity of the mandatory firearm term, Dean requested a sentence of just one day on his robbery and conspiracy charges. The district court wrote that 30 years plus one day was “more than sufficient,” but nonetheless believed it lacked the authority to bend the mandatory minimum law. The Supreme Court has now found otherwise, and Dean will be getting his 30 years plus one day.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the high court: “The bar on imposing concurrent sentences does not affect a court’s discretion to consider a mandatory minimum when calculating each individual sentence.”

Of course, although drugs were involved in Dean’s case, the mandatory minimum in question actually concerned firearms—a notorious sacred cow for the political right. But this sets a precedent that may apply in mandatory-minimum cases concerning drugs as well.

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