Accident or No, Gunfire Gets Automatic Penalty: Supremes

By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 29, 2009 11:42 AM CDT
Accident or No, Gunfire Gets Automatic Penalty: Supremes
Members of the US Supreme Court.   (AP Photo)

The Supreme Court says accidentally shooting a gun during the commission of a crime should bring the same penalties as intentionally using a firearm. The high court today upheld the conviction and sentence of Christopher Michael Dean, who was arrested for trying to rob a bank in Georgia in 2004. A gun went off accidentally during the attempted robbery when Dean tried to switch the weapon from one hand to the other.

The discharge brought an automatic 10-year sentence for firing a weapon during a crime. Dean appealed, saying the automatic sentence shouldn't count since the firing of the gun was accidental. Federal prosecutors said the law doesn't care why the gun went off, and the high court agreed. If criminals want to avoid the penalty for accidental gunfire, they can "avoid committing the felony in the first place," Chief Justice John Roberts said. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissented. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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