Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Supreme Court Applies Same Penalty for Shooting

In 2004, Christopher Michael Dean tried to rob a bank in Rome, Georgia. He went to the bank with a loaded gun. While he was moving the gun from one hand to the other, it accidentally went off. The bullet did not strike anyone and nobody was hurt. Needless to say, Dean was not successful in his robbery attempt and was arrested by the police. Since he tried to rob a bank, he was prosecuted by the federal government. Federal law provides for an automatic 10 year prison penalty for firing a gun during a crime. Dean argued that since the gun went off accidentally, the automatic 10 year provision should not apply. The Supreme Court agreed with federal prosecutors by finding that federal law does not care if the gun was fired intentionally or went off by accident. The statute does not differentiate between accidental or intentional discharge of the firearm. In a statement from the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts said that if criminals want to avoid the penalty for accidental gunfire, they can "lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care during the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime, leave the gun at home or - best yet - avoid committing the felony in the first case."

This was a 7 to 2 decision. Justice Stevens and Breyer dissented arguing that Congress only meant for the intentional discharge of a firearm.

The case is Dean v. United States, 08-5274.

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