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Greenlaw v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

April 15, 2008, Argued; June 23, 2008, Decided

No. 07-330


 [**2562]   [*240]  Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns the role of courts in our adversarial system. The specific question presented: May a United States Court of Appeals, acting on its own initiative, order an increase in a defendant's sentence? Petitioner Michael J. Greenlaw was convicted of various offenses relating to drugs and firearms, and was sentenced to imprisonment for 442 months. He appealed urging, inter alia, that his sentence was unreasonably  [***406] long. After rejecting all of Greenlaw's arguments, the Court of Appeals determined, without Government invitation, that the applicable law plainly required a prison sentence 15 years longer than the term the trial court had imposed. Accordingly, the appeals court instructed the trial court to increase Greenlaw's sentence to 622 months. We hold that, absent a Government appeal or cross-appeal, the sentence Greenlaw received should not have been increased. We therefore vacate the Court of Appeals' judgment.

Greenlaw was a member of a gang that,  [****8] for years, controlled the sale of crack cocaine in a southside Minneapolis neighborhood.  See United States v. Carter, 481 F.3d 601, 604 (CA8 2007) (case below). To protect their drug stash and to prevent rival dealers from moving into their territory, gang members carried and concealed numerous weapons.  See id., at 605. For his part in the operation, Greenlaw was charged, in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, with eight offenses; after trial, he was found [*241]  guilty on seven of the charges. App. to Pet. for Cert. 16a-17a.

Among Greenlaw's convictions were two for violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), which prohibits carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime: His first § 924(c) conviction was for carrying a firearm in connection with a crime committed in 1998; his second, for both carrying and discharging a firearm in connection with a crime committed in 1999. App. to Pet. for Cert. 17a. A first conviction for violating § 924(c) carries a mandatory minimum term of 5 years, if the firearm is simply carried. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). If the firearm is also discharged, the mandatory minimum increases to 10 years. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii).  [****9] For "a second or subsequent conviction," however, whether the weapon is only carried or discharged as well, the mandatory minimum jumps to 25 years. § 924(c)(1)(C)(i). Any sentence for violating § 924(c), moreover, must run consecutively to "any other term of imprisonment," including any other conviction under § 924(c). § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii).

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554 U.S. 237 *; 128 S. Ct. 2559 **; 171 L. Ed. 2d 399 ***; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5259 ****; 76 U.S.L.W. 4533; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 421


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: Remanded by United States v. Greenlaw, 538 F.3d 830, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17204 (8th Cir. Minn., 2008)


United States v. Carter, 481 F.3d 601, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 6791 (8th Cir. Minn., 2007)

Disposition: 481 F.3d 601, vacated and remanded.


sentence, cross-appeal, court of appeals, cases, courts, appeals, correction, amicus, parties, notice, reviewing court, district court, sua sponte, appellate court, correct an error, Guidelines, nonappealing party, notice of appeal, vacate, trial court, departure, mandatory minimum, presentation, plain-error, briefing, firearm, violation of law, own initiative, plain error, circumstances

Criminal Law & Procedure, Possession of Weapons, Unregistered Firearm, Penalties, Use of Weapons, Simple Use, Adjustments & Enhancements, Criminal History, Prior Felonies, Civil Procedure, Judicial Officers, Judges, General Overview, Trials, Bench Trials, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Reviewability, Preservation for Review, Failure to Object, Procedural Matters, Notice of Appeal, Sentencing, Appealability, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Accusatory Instruments, Standards of Review, Plain Error, Judicial Discretion, Sentencing Guidelines, Departures From Guidelines, Legality Review, Ranges, Remand & Remittitur, Briefs, Time Limitations, Corrections, Modifications & Reductions, Court's Authority, Waiver, Triggers of Waivers