United States v. Lira

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 08-02-2013
  • Case #: 11-30324
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Christen for the Court; Circuit Judges Tashima and M.D. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

In accordance with Alleyne v. United States, facts that increase mandatory minimum sentences must be submitted to the jury and established beyond a reasonable doubt; a finding by the preponderance of the evidence by the district court that a firearm had been discharged during and in relation to or in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense is not sufficient, and the sentence must be reexamined.

Joseph Lira was convicted on multiple counts related to methamphetamine distribution and firearm possession. The jury found him guilty on Count IV, use of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii), the mandatory minimum sentence of five years increases to ten years if the firearm was discharged. In accordance with Harris v. United States, whether a firearm was discharged may be found by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence. Following the jury’s verdict in Lira’s case, the judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that the firearm had been discharged “during and in relation to or in furtherance” of a drug trafficking offense. Lira was therefore sentenced to an additional 120 months. In between Lira’s conviction and the subsequent appeal, the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Alleyne v. United States, which overruled Harris and held that “facts that increase mandatory minimum sentences must be submitted to the jury” and established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit held Count IV of Lira’s conviction must be vacated. Because the sentencing package then became “unbundled,” the district court must reexamine the entire sentence. VACATED and REMANDED.

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