Supreme Court Ends Its Streak Protecting Rights With Georgia Federal Criminal Case

We first discussed Dean v. United States in December, when the Supreme Court agreed to review the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion of the federal case. During a robbery of a bank in Rome, Georgia in 2004, Christopher Michael Dean accidentally fired his gun while taking money from a teller drawer. No one was injured.

The Eleventh Circuit, here in Atlanta, Georgia, upheld Dean’s eighteen-year sentence, which included a ten-year minimum sentence for firing the gun. We hoped that the Supreme Court would overturn this decision, because such significant criminal liability should never be imposed without criminal intent OR injury.

In the last couple of weeks, the Supreme Court has guarded our 4th Amendment rights against unlawful searches and protected us from secret detention and government overreaching. This week, however, the Court ended its short streak with Dean. The Court held that a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence applies if a gun is discharged during a violent or drug trafficking crime, even if the gun is fired entirely by accident. This disregard for the most basic element of criminal liability, mens rea, is extraordinarily disappointing.

The Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.