United States v. Major

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 03-27-2012
  • Case #: 10-10147
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wallace for the Court; Circuit Judge M. Smith; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge Noonan
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), “when [a] district court does not have sufficient information to determine the order in which the jury made determinations of guilt during jury deliberations on multiple counts, it must order the convictions so that the mandatory minimum sentence is minimized.”

Major and Huff were convicted of numerous offenses, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 924, and sentenced under 924(c). Major and Huff appealed, claiming that the district court denied them a fair trial by admitting evidence of the their affiliation with the criminal street gang “High Roller Boyz” and evidence of crimes they had committed with said group. They also argued violation of their Sixth Amendment right to prepare for trial because they were not allowed to contact anyone other than their attorneys during trial. Furthermore, Defendants claimed that 924(c) violated separation of powers and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, Defendant claimed the district court erred in permitting a discharging offense, rather than a brandishing offense, to be the first listed conviction, resulting in a longer sentence due to the minimum sentencing requirements, 924(c). The Court affirmed all of the district court's evidentiary rulings. The Court also held that the defendants were not deprived of an opportunity to prepare for trial, because they presented no evidence of harm to their cases and had not requested contact to prepare for trial. The Court held that 924(c) does not violate separation of powers or the Eighth Amendment. Finally, the Court noted that § 924(c) was ambiguous where a court did not have information regarding the order in which findings of guilt are made and that, therefore, the lenity doctrine should apply. The Ninth Circuit held that “when the district court does not have sufficient information to determine the order in which the jury made determinations of guilt during jury deliberations on multiple counts under section 924(c), it must order the convictions so that the mandatory minimum sentence is minimized.” AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED and REMANDED IN PART.

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