MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Title 18 U. S. C. § 924 (c) authorizes the imposition of enhanced penalties on a defendant who uses or carries a firearm while committing a federal felony. The question for decision in these cases is whether that section may be applied to a defendant who uses a firearm in the course of a felony that is proscribed by a statute which itself authorizes enhancement if a dangerous weapon is used. We hold that the sentence received by such a defendant may be enhanced
Petitioners Anthony LaRocca, Jr., and Michael Busic were tried together on a multicount indictment charging drug, firearms, and assault offenses flowing from a narcotics conspiracy and an attempt to rob an undercover agent. The evidence showed that in May 1976 the two arranged a drug buy with an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration who was to supply $30,000 in cash. When the agent arrived with the money, LaRocca attempted to rob him at gunpoint. The agent signalled for reinforcements, and as other officers began to close in LaRocca fired several shots at them. No one was hit and the agents succeeded in disarming and arresting LaRocca. Busic was also arrested and the officers seized a gun he was carrying in his belt but had not drawn. Additional weapons were found in the pair's automobile.
A jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania convicted petitioners of narcotics and possession-of-firearms counts,
The defendants appealed, contending, among other things, that they could not be sentenced consecutively for assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon as defined in 18 U. S. C. § 111
Following this Court's decision in Simpson v. United States, supra, the Court of Appeals granted a petition for rehearing and vacated its double jeopardy holding with regard to LaRocca on grounds there was no reason to reach the constitutional question. 587 F. 2d, at 587-589. Thereafter, it proceeded as a matter of statutory construction to arrive at a nearly identical conclusion—namely, that LaRocca's sentence
We turn first to the case of petitioner LaRocca because it poses most directly the key question of legislative intent. Our starting point, like that of the parties, is Simpson, supra. There we considered the relationship between § 924 (c) and the federal bank robbery statute, 18 U. S. C. § 2113, which, like the assault provision at issue here, 18 U. S. C. § 111, predates § 924 (c) and provides by its own terms for enhanced punishment where the felony is committed with a dangerous weapon.
We disagree. In our view, Simpson's language and reasoning support one conclusion alone—that prosecution and enhanced sentencing under § 924 (c) is simply not permissible where the predicate felony statute contains its own enhancement provision. This result is supported not only by the general principles underlying the doctrine of stare decisis— principles particularly apposite in cases of statutory construction —but also by the legislative history and relevant canons of statutory construction. The Government has not persuaded us that this result is irrational or depends upon implausible inferences as to congressional intent. And to the
Our reasoning has several strands. It begins, as indeed it must, with the text and legislative history of § 924 (c). By its terms, that provision tells us nothing about the way Congress intended to mesh the new enhancement scheme with analogous provisions in pre-existing statutes defining federal crimes. Moreover, as Simpson noted, 435 U. S., at 13, and n. 7, § 924 (c) was offered as an amendment on the House floor by Representative Poff, 114 Cong. Rec. 22231 (1968), and passed on the same day. Id., at 22248. Accordingly, the committee reports and congressional hearings to which we normally turn for aid in these situations simply do not exist, and we are forced in consequence to search for clues to congressional intent in the sparse pages of floor debate that make up the relevant legislative history. The crucial material for present purposes is the following observation by Representative Poff:
Simpson pointed out that "[t]his statement is clearly probative of a legislative judgment that the purpose of § 924 (c) is
Reliance on Representative Poff's statement of legislative intent is consistent with the position taken by the Department of Justice in 1971 when it advised prosecutors not to proceed under § 924 (c) (1) if the predicate felony statute provided for "`increased penalties where a firearm is used in the commission of the offense.'" Simpson, supra, at 16, quoting 19 U. S. Attys. Bull. No. 3, p. 63 (U. S. Dept. of Justice, 1971). Moreover, this view is fully consistent with two tools of statutory construction relied upon in Simpson. The first is the oft-cited rule that "`ambiguity concerning the ambit of criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of lenity.'" United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 347 (1971), quoting Rewis v. United States, 401 U.S. 808, 812 (1971). And the second is the principle that a more specific statute will be given precedence over a more general one, regardless of their temporal sequence. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489-490 (1973). In Simpson, these principles counseled against double enhancement. They served as "an outgrowth of our reluctance to increase or multiply punishments absent
The Government seeks to minimize the force of these principles of statutory construction by urging (1) that there is no ambiguity in § 924 (c) and thus that the rule of lenity is not properly called into play and (2) that in fact it is § 924 (c) that is the more specific statute because it relates only to firearms while § 111 would permit enhancement for any dangerous weapon. We find each contention flawed. As to the first, the claim that there exists no ambiguity does not stand up. Plainly the text of the statute fails to address the issue pertinent to decision of these cases—whether Congress intended (1) to provide for enhanced penalties only for crimes not containing their own enhancement provisions, (2) to provide an alternative enhancement provision applicable to all felonies, or (3) to provide a duplicative enhancement provision which would permit double enhancement where the underlying felony was proscribed by a statute like § 111. Our task here, as in Simpson, is to ascertain as best we can which approach Congress had in mind. The rule of lenity, like reference to appropriate legislative materials, is one of the tools we use to do so.
The Government's second contention—that § 924 (c) rather than § 111 should be viewed as the more specific statute—is both facially unpersuasive
In addition to contesting the rule of lenity and specific-versus-general arguments, the Government contends that our reading of the legislative materials is unreasonable because those who supported the Poff amendment—including Representative Poff himself—were clearly committed to meting out stiff penalties for use of a firearm in the course of a felony and would not have followed any course inconsistent with that commitment. The argument is overdrawn. In the first place, we do not think our construction is inconsistent with a congressional desire to deal severely with firearm abuses. As we understand it, the Government's argument is not that our construction reads Congress to have diminished the penalty for firearm use, but only that our construction fails to enhance that penalty to the hilt. Yet it is patently clear that Congress too has failed to enhance that penalty to the hilt—it set maximum sentences as well as a variety of other limits on the available punishment. Thus, while Congress had a general desire to deter firearm abuses, that desire was not unbounded. Our task here is to locate one of the boundaries, and the inquiry is not advanced by the assertion that Congress wanted no boundaries.
More specifically, some accommodation between § 924 (c) and statutes like § 111 is obviously necessary. And since some pre-existing statutes provided for sentences less severe than § 924 (c) and others for penalties more severe,
The fact that the enhanced sentences authorized in some predicate felony statutes are greater than those set forth in § 924 (c) while those in others are less provides a partial response to the Government's contention that our construction would lead to irrational sentencing patterns in which some less severe crimes are punished more than other more severe ones.
What we have said thus far disposes of LaRocca's case by making it clear that he may not be sentenced under § 924 (c) for using his gun to assault the federal officers. This holding also applies in Busic's case. But in that case the Government has a fallback position. Even if a person who uses a gun to violate § 111 may not be sentenced for doing so under § 924 (c) (1), the argument goes, a person who carries a gun in the commission of a § 111 violation may be sentenced under § 924 (c) (2) because the enhancement provision of § 111 does not apply to those who carry but do not use their weapons. Thus, the Government urges, whatever our holding with regard to LaRocca, Busic may be sentenced under § 924 (c) (2) for carrying his gun while committing the crime of aiding and abetting LaRocca's violation of § 111.
The central flaw in this argument as applied here is that Busic is being punished for using a weapon. Through the combination of § 111 and 18 U. S. C. § 2, he was found guilty as a principal of using a firearm to assault the undercover agents.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion, holding that the decision in Simpson v. United States, 435 U.S. 6 (1978), leads to the conclusion that 18 U. S. C. § 924 (c) is inapplicable where a defendant is charged with committing a substantive federal offense violative of a statute that already provides for enhanced punishment for the use of a firearm.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom MR. JUSTICE STEVENS joins, dissenting.
Under 18 U. S. C. § 924 (c), "[w]hoever—(1) uses a firearm to commit any [federal] felony . . . , or (2) carries a firearm unlawfully during the commission of any [federal] felony," is subject to a term of imprisonment in addition to that provided for the felony in question. In Simpson v. United States, 435 U.S. 6, which involved both § 924 (c) (1) and a felony proscribed by a statute that itself authorizes an enhanced penalty if a dangerous weapon is used, the Court held that Congress did not intend to authorize the imposition
Congress enacted § 924 (c) as part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, Pub. L. 90-618, 82 Stat. 1213. That legislation, enacted the year in which both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated, was addressed largely to the "increasing rate of crime and lawlessness and the growing use of firearms in violent crime." H. R. Rep. No. 1577, 90th Cong., 2d Sess., 7 (1968). A primary objective of § 924 (c), as explained by its sponsor, Representative Poff, was to "persuade the man who is tempted to commit a Federal felony to leave his gun at home." 114 Cong. Rec. 22231 (1968). Towards that end, § 924 (c) provides for a prison term, in addition to that provided for the underlying felony, of not less than 1 year nor more than 10 in the case of a first offender, and of not less than 2 years nor more than 25 in the case of a second or subsequent offender. It further provides that a sentence imposed under § 924 (c) is not to run concurrently with the sentence for the predicate felony and that, in cases of repeat offenders, the defendant cannot receive probation or a suspended sentence.
Before the enactment of § 924 (c), earlier Congresses had already authorized enhanced penalties for using a dangerous weapon in the commission of certain especially serious federal felonies, including assault on a federal officer, 18 U. S. C. § 111, and bank robbery, 18 U. S. C. §§ 2113 (a), (d). Those enhancement provisions authorize terms of imprisonment of
In Simpson, the Court held that Congress did not intend the imposition of enhanced punishments under both § 924 (c) (1) and the enhancement provision for a predicate felony. That conclusion found substantial support in the statement of Representative Poff on the House floor that "[f]or the sake of legislative history, it should be noted that my [bill] is not intended to apply to title 18, sections 111, 112, or 113 which already define the penalties for the use of a firearm in assaulting officials, with sections 2113 or 2114 concerning armed robberies of the mail or banks, with section 2231 concerning armed assaults upon process servers or with chapter 44 which defines other firearm felonies." 114 Cong., Rec. 22232 (1968).
The issue here is not that of double punishment, but instead whether the Government may obtain enhancement of punishment under § 924 (c) (1), rather than under the enhancement provision for the predicate felony. The Court today concludes that Congress did not intend § 924 (c) (1) to apply at all to a predicate felony proscribed by a statute with its own enhancement provision. It is thus the Court's view that the Government may obtain an enhanced sentence only under the enhancement provision for the underlying felony itself.
Although this conclusion finds support in certain passages in Simpson and in the literal terms of Representative Poff's statement on the House floor, it is not supported by the actual holding in Simpson, the language of the statute itself, or a fair appraisal of the intent of Congress in enacting § 924 (c). In Simpson, the Court decided only that "in a prosecution growing out of a single transaction of bank robbery with firearms, a defendant may not be sentenced [to enhanced punishments] under both § 2113 (d) and § 924 (c)." 435 U. S., at 16 (emphasis
To be sure, Representative Poff stated that his bill"[was] not intended to apply" to certain felonies proscribed by statutes that contain their own enhancement provisions. But that statement could as easily have been directed to the question in Simpson—whether § 924 (c) (1) can be invoked in addition to a previously enacted enhancement provision— as to the question in this case—whether § 924 (c) (1) can be invoked in lieu of such a provision.
I agree with the holding in Simpson that Congress did not intend to "pyramid" punishments for the use of a firearm in a single criminal transaction. Yet I find quite implausible the proposition that Congress, in enacting § 924 (c) (1), did not intend this general enhancement provision—with its stiff sanctions for first offenders and even stiffer sanctions for recidivists —to serve as an alternative source of enhanced punishment for those who commit felonies, such as bank robbery and assaulting a federal officer, that had been previously singled out by Congress as warranting special enhancement, but for which a lesser enhancement sanction than that imposed by § 924 (c) had been authorized. In the light of the expressed concerns of Congress in enacting the Gun Control Act of 1968 in general and § 924 (c) (1) in particular, it is far more reasonable to conclude that Congress intended § 924 (c) (1) to mean precisely what it says, namely, that it applies to any federal felony.
It is my view, in sum, that § 924 (c) (1) applies to all federal felonies, though subject to the limitation in Simpson against double punishment. Under this reading of the statute, the Government may obtain an enhanced sentence under either
For the foregoing reasons, I dissent.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
I dissented from this Court's decision in Simpson v. United States, 435 U.S. 6 (1978), and continue to believe that case was wrongly decided. Now, as then, I am quite amazed at this Court's ability to say that 18 U. S. C. § 924 (c) "tells us nothing about the way Congress intended to mesh the new enhancement scheme with analogous provisions in pre-existing statutes defining federal crimes," ante, at 405, even though that section provides quite clearly that the use of a firearm in the commission of "any felony" shall be punished by up to 10 years' imprisonment "in addition to the punishment provided for the commission of such felony. . . ." Nor do I find any more persuasive the Court's rehash of the legislative history of § 924 (c), including Simpson's unwarranted reliance upon the remark of Representative Poff, a remark that the Court today labels "the Poff rule", see ante, at 409, n. 14, and that might more properly be labeled "the Poff amendment" (albeit not intended as such by its proponent).
Were Simpson demonstrably a case of statutory construction, I could acquiesce to the Court's reading of § 924 (c) in
Recently, this Court unanimously rejected Simpson's constitutional premise. In Whalen v. United States, 445 U.S. 684 (1980), six Members of this Court held that Congress' intent to impose cumulative punishments at a single criminal proceeding completely controlled the question of double jeopardy. See id., at 688-689; id., at 697-698 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in judgment). See also ante, at 413, (BLACKMUN, J., concurring). Three other Members of this Court, including myself, argued that the permissibility of cumulative punishments in the same criminal proceeding presented no double jeopardy question whatsoever. See Whalen v. United States, supra, at 696 (WHITE, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); at 701-707 (REHNQUIST, J., joined by BURGER, C. J., dissenting). I believe that this Court, having thus disposed of Simpson's constitutional underpinnings, should reconsider its holding that § 924 (c) does not, in fact, apply to "any felony."
"Whoever forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any person designated in section 1114 of this title while engaged in or on account of the performance of his official duties, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
"Whoever, in the commission of any such acts uses a deadly or dangerous weapon, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
Among the persons designated in 18 U. S. C. § 1114 are officers or employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"(1) uses a firearm to commit any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, or
"(2) carries a firearm unlawfully during the commission of any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States[,] "shall, in addition to the punishment provided for the commission of such felony, he sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years. In the case of his second or subsequent conviction under this subsection, such person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not less than two nor more than twenty-five years and, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not suspend the sentence in the case of a second or subsequent conviction of such person or give him a probationary sentence, nor shall the term of imprisonment imposed under this subsection run concurrently with any term of imprisonment imposed for the commission of such felony."