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Dean V. United States

criminal law

Dean v. United States, 556 U.S. 568 (2009), was a decision by the United States Supreme Court upholding a 10-year penalty for the discharge of a firearm during the commission of any violent or drug trafficking crime, against a bank robber whose gun went off accidentally. Scott J. Forster was Counsel of Record for Christopher Dean. Mr. Forster argued the case before the United States Supreme Court on March 4, 2009. Click Here

In 2004, a bank robber, Christopher M. Dean entered a branch of AmSouth Bank in Rome, Georgia wearing a mask and waving a gun. He instructed everyone to get down, walked behind the teller counter, and took cash from the teller station with his left hand while holding his gun with his right. The gun discharged, leaving a bullet hole in the partition between two stations. Dean cursed and ran out of the bank. Witnesses later testified that he seemed surprised that the gun had gone off. No one was hurt.

Dean and an accomplice were later caught and charged with conspiracy to commit a robbery affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1951(a), and aiding and abetting each other in using, carrying, possessing, and discharging a firearm during an armed robbery, in violation of §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) and §2. Dean admitted to committing the robbery and was convicted by a jury of the robbery and firearm counts. He was sentenced to a total of 220 months in prison.

Under 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(1)(A)(iii), an individual convicted for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to any violent or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such a crime, receives a 5 year sentence if he possesses the firearm, 7 years if he brandishes the firearm, and a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime "if the firearm is discharged."

Dean was sentenced to the additional 10 years in prison. He appealed, contending that the discharge was accidental, and that the sentencing enhancement in §924(c)(1)(A)(iii) requires proof that the defendant intended to discharge the firearm. Dean argued that he should be sentenced to 7 years for brandishing and not 10 years for discharging the firearm. Dean's conviction and sentence was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the circuits.

In a 7 to 2 decision delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court held that Section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) required no separate proof of intent and that the 10-year sentence was appropriate. Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer filed dissenting opinions. Click here