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Concurrent Terms Illegal Under Federal Law

Lora v. United States Docket: 22-49, Opinion Date: June 16, 2023. A federal court imposing multiple prison sentences typically has discretion to run the sentences concurrently or consecutively, 18 U.S.C. 3584. Section 924(c)'s exception provides: no term of imprisonment imposed “under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment.” Lora was convicted of aiding and abetting a violation of section 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 conspiring to distribute drugs. The district court concluded that it lacked discretion to run the sentences for Lora’s two convictions concurrently. The Second Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. Section 924(c)(1)(D)(ii)’s bar on concurrent sentences does not govern a 924(j) sentence, which can run either concurrently with or consecutively to another sentence. Subsection (c)’s consecutive-sentence mandate applies only to the terms of imprisonment prescribed within subsection (c). A sentence imposed under subsection (j) does not qualify. Subsection (j) is located outside subsection (c) and does not call for imposing any sentence from subsection (c); while subsection (j) references subsection (c), that reference is limited to offense elements, not penalties. It is not “implausible” for Congress to have imposed the harsh consecutive-sentence mandate under subsection (c) but not subsection (j). That result is consistent with the statute’s design. Unlike subsection (c), subsection (j) generally eschews mandatory penalties in favor of sentencing flexibility.

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