Supreme Court Will Hear Consecutive Sentence Challenge From Drug Murder Case In Spring

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued an order granting the petitions of four cases and adding them to its Spring 2023 docket.

The cases include questions about the scope of restrictions on IRS summonses and whether federal laws banning encouragement or incitement of immigration (in the case of an adult adoption service advertised as a pathway to immigration) are unconstitutional under the first amendment.

In one case, Lora v United States, justices will be asked to decide if prohibitions against concurrent sentences under one subsection of federal law apply to charges under  another, further down subsection.

Efrain Lora was charged with murder under 18 U.S.C. § 924(j), and Lora’s lawyers argue that 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii), which provides that no prison term imposed “under this subsection” can run concurrently with another term of imprisonment, does not apply to Lora’s charge under 18 U.S.C. § 924(j), since it does not fall directly under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in the way the law is written.

Efrain Lora was convicted for his role in a drug trafficking scheme in the Bronx. He and his co-conspirators were charged and found guilty of trafficking cocaine throughout New York and, in 2002, Lora and two co-conspirators picked up a number of firearms.

The two co-conspirators then took a separate car and Lora, in his own care, spotted and identified to them the location of a rival drug dealer, Andrew Balcarran. Balcarran was then shot and killed.

After a jury trial in SDNY, Lora was convicted of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm “during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime” that caused a death under 18 U.S.C. 924(j) and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base under 21 U.S.C. 841(b). He was sentenced to 25 years in prison on the conspiracy charge and five years on the 924(j) charge, consecutively.

Lora’s argument is that he should be able to serve both sentences concurrently, leading to 25 prescribed years rather than 30 years in prison.

The circuit courts have disagreed on this issue, though the U.S. in its brief described the disagreements as “narrow” and with “limited practical importance.”

The U.S. additionally argued that the 924(j)(1) conviction Lora received is essentially an aggravated 924(c) conviction – ultimately, the government argued,  they had to prove that a person was murdered as part of a Section 924(c) violation in order to secure a conviction for 924(j)(1), making that subsection entirely reliant on 924(c) and the concurrent sentences restriction obviously applicable.

Read the petition here.

Read the Brief for the U.S. in Opposition here.

The court will likely hear arguments in the case in March 2023.

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