United States v. Gonzales
520 U.S. 1 (1997)

Annotate this Case

CASES ADJUDGED

IN THE

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

AT

OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

UNITED STATES v. GONZALES ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

No. 95-1605. Argued December 11, 1996-Decided March 3,1997

All three respondents were convicted in New Mexico courts and sentenced to prison terms on state charges arising from the use of guns by two of them to hold up undercover officers during a drug sting operation. Mter they began to serve their state sentences, respondents were convicted on various drug and related federal charges connected to the sting operation, and of using firearms during those crimes in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 924(c). In ordering their imprisonment, the District Court directed that the portion of their federal sentences attributable to the drug convictions run concurrently with their state sentences, with the remaining 60-month sentences required by § 924(c) to run consecutively to both. Among other rulings, the Tenth Circuit vacated the firearms sentences on the ground that they should have run concurrently with the state prison terms. The court found § 924(c)'s language to be ambiguous, resorted to the legislative history, and held that a § 924(c) sentence may run concurrently with a previously imposed, already operational state sentence, but not with another federal sentence.

Held: Section § 924(c)'s plain language-i. e., "the sentence ... under this subsection [shall not] run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment" (emphasis added)-forbids a federal district court to direct that the section's mandatory 5-year firearms sentence run concurrently with any other prison term, whether state or federal. Read naturally, the section's word "any" has an expansive meaning that is not limited to federal sentences, and so must be interpreted as referring to all "term[s]


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of imprisonment," including those imposed by state courts. Cf., e. g., United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez, 511 U. S. 350, 358. Unlike the Tenth Circuit, this Court sees nothing remarkable (much less ambiguous) about Congress' decision, in drafting § 924(c), to prohibit concurrent sentences instead of simply mandating consecutive ones. Moreover, given the straightforward statutory command, there is no reason to resort to legislative history. Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U. S. 249, 254. Indeed, the legislative history excerpt relied upon by the Tenth Circuit only muddies the waters. Contrary to that court's interpretation, § 924(c)'s prohibition applies only to the section's mandatory firearms sentence, and does not limit a district court's normal authority under § 3584(a) to order that other federal sentences run concurrently with or consecutively to other state or federal prison terms. pp.4-11.

65 F.3d 814, vacated and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined, post, p. 12. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 14.

Miguel A. Estrada argued the cause for the United States.

With him on the briefs were Acting Solicitor General Dell inger, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.

Edward Bustamante, by appointment of the Court, 519 U. S. 804, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Angela Arellanes, by appointment of the Court, 519 U. S. 804, Roberto Albertorio, by appointment of the Court, 519 U. S. 962, and Carter G. Phillips.*

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court. We are asked to decide whether a federal court may direct that a prison sentence under 18 U. S. C. § 924(c) run concurrently with a state-imposed sentence, even though § 924(c)

* Leah J. Prewitt, Jeffrey J. Pokorak, Placido G. Gomez, and Barbara Bergman filed a brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as amicus curiae urging affirmance.


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Full Text of Opinion

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