Supreme Court Struggles with Applying Firearm Law to Drug Offenders

( – The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) of 1984 adds a 15-year minimum sentence for criminals who illegally possess a gun after amassing a record of three or more prior violent felonies or serious drug offenses. The law is meant to discourage repeat offenders — career criminals. According to the ACCA, the length of time between offenses doesn’t matter; the previous convictions only need to be on their record to apply for the extended sentence. Two convicts are in the process of fighting that law, stating the enhancement qualification should take changing laws into account. The Supreme Court is weighing the matter.

The Cases

The cases before the court include Jackson v. United States and Brown v. United States. In the former matter, Eugene Jackson argued that the court should use the federal drug schedule in place at the time the criminal committed the firearm offense — not the schedule in place at the time of the drug conviction. In the latter case, Justin Rashaad Brown also believes the original drug schedule used at the time of the illegal substance offense could be outdated at the time of the subsequent gun crime. He thinks the court should use the schedule in place at the time of sentencing for the firearm offense.

Federal law currently uses the original drug schedule when applying the sentence enhancement stipulation, per the ACCA. According to the Washington Examiner, the US Solicitor General’s Office feels using the drug schedule in place at the time of the drug offense is appropriate. With the classification of drugs continually changing over time, SCOTUS appears split on which way it will lean.


Justice Brett Kavanaugh seems to agree with the federal government. He reportedly argued that serious drug offenders need to know from the beginning that they are not to possess a gun. The justice indicated the law is clear, and convicts are on notice that three convictions mean they will automatically spend more time behind bars. Justice Elena Kagan had a different point of view. According to the Examiner, she pointed out that just because a drug is on the controlled substance list today, doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. Her question indicated she might be leaning more toward using an updated schedule when making sentencing determinations.

The Brennan Center for Justice recently released violent crime numbers through 2022. Between 2020 and 2022, murders were down 6.7%, and other violent offenses decreased 4% across the nation. SCOTUS is expected to rule on the cases by the end of June 2024.

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