The Supreme Court ruled in June that a law that would require more prison time for criminals using a gun during a violent crime is unconstitutionally vague. The law in the case was written too vaguely and since it was vague, it violated the guarantee of due process provided by the U.S. Constitution.
Congress passed the most recent version of this law in 1986 and it gave additional penalties for those who committed certain violent crimes while possessing a firearm.
With this ruling, the court nullified the convictions of two different men prosecuted in the state of Texas with charges for their roles in a number of gas station robberies in the state in 2014. Maurice Davis and Andrew Glover, the two defendants, were convicted of multiple robbery charges, two counts of brandishing a shotgun during a violent crime, and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. Davis was sentenced to 41 years originally and Glover was sentenced to 50 years. Both are now likely to have shorter sentences but the decision doesn’t affect other convictions.
The Supreme Court was divided on the issue, including President Trump’s two nominees. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the majority with the four liberal justices and helped write the decision. The other Trump appointee, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, had a dissent for the court’s conservatives.
The Justice Department said that if the law was struck down then the courts will be inundated with collateral review petitions by some of the most dangerous prisoners in the federal prison system. It can also frustrate efforts to prosecute any future and current violent criminals. Kavanaugh also touched on this argument in his dissent, in which he labeled this ruling “an extraordinary event.” Part of what he said was that the decision of the court makes it harder to prosecute any violent gun crimes. It also means that inmates who have committed these types of crimes will have earlier release dates.
Gorsuch wrote that laws passed by Congress need to give ordinary people notice of the kind of conduct that can land them in prison. He said that a vague law isn’t a law at all. He added that Congress could pass a law that is more specific to address the issue.