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Law School Case Brief

Ball v. United States - 470 U.S. 856, 105 S. Ct. 1668 (1985)

Rule:

Because Congress did not intend the same conduct to be punishable under both 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 922(h) and 1202(a), where two convictions involve the same firearm, the only remedy consistent with the congressional intent is for the district court, where the sentencing responsibility resides, to exercise its discretion to vacate one of the underlying convictions. The second conviction, whose concomitant sentence is served concurrently, does not evaporate simply because of the concurrence of the sentence. The separate conviction, apart from the concurrent sentence, has potential adverse collateral consequences that may not be ignored.  Thus, the second conviction, even if it results in no greater sentence, is an impermissible punishment.

Facts:

Petitioner, a previously convicted felon, was arrested when the police found him in possession of another person's revolver that was reported missing; he reportedly threatened a neighbor with the revolver, and tried unsuccessfully to sell it. Petitioner was then indicted on charges of receiving a firearm in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 922(h)(1) and for possessing it in violation of 18 U. S. C. App. § 1202(a)(1). He was convicted in Federal District Court on both counts and sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment on the respective counts. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court with instructions to modify the sentences to make them concurrent. Petitioner sought certiorari review from the United States Supreme Court.

Issue:

Were the convictions proper?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court vacated the judgment of the appellate court and remanded with instructions to the have the district court exercise its discretion to vacate one of the convictions. The Court determined that there was no bar to the government's proceeding with prosecution simultaneously under the two statutes, but that did not mean that the previously convicted felon could be convicted and punished for the two offenses. The Court found that Congress had no intention of creating duplicative punishment for one limited class of persons falling within the overlap between the two titles and that the independent but overlapping statute simply were not directed to separate evils. The Court held that the remedy of ordering one of the sentences to be served concurrently with the other did not rectify the problem because on of the convictions, as well as its concurrent sentence, was unauthorized punishment for a separate offense.

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