June 24 (UPI) — A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that a federal law requiring longer prison sentences for using a gun during a “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague.
The court voted 5-4 stating the law “provides no reliable way” to determine which offenses qualify as crimes of violence. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion on behalf of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all,” Gorsuch wrote. “Only the people’s elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them.”
The case presented to the Supreme Court involved two men — Maurice Davis and Andre Glover — who were convicted of several robbery charges and another federal statute that required increased mandatory minimum sentences for a “crime of violence.”
Under the law, they would have faced a mandatory sentence of five years, with the possibility to increase it to seven years if a gun was brandished and 10 years if a gun was fired.
Gorsuch’s opinion stated that Congress should have explicitly included criminal convictions such as robbery in the statute if it was meant to be applied to them.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion, labeling the ruling an “extraordinary event” and warned the impact could be “severe” and possibly “thwart Congress’ law enforcement policies, destabilize the criminal justice system and undermine safety in American communities.”
“The court’s decision today will make it harder to prosecute violent gun crimes in the future,” he wrote. “The court’s decision will likely mean that thousands of inmates who committed violent gun crimes will be released far earlier than Congress specified.”