It is well settled that the presumption of mens rea in criminal law applies to federal criminal statutes. It remains debatable, however, whether this presumption applies to sentencing provisions contained within federal criminal statutes. Circuit courts have confronted this issue when deciding whether trial courts should impose the sentencing enhancement for discharging a firearm contained in 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) on a defendant who has accidentally discharged a firearm.
Passed in response to Bailey v. United States, the current version of § 924(c) is the result of a 1998 amendment. The amendment increased the scope of the statute by prohibiting possession of a firearm, whereas the prior version only prohibited the use and carrying of a firearm. Congress went even further, adding additional and harsher mandatory minimum sentences for brandishing or discharging a firearm. Section 924(c) imposes substantial penalties and is a powerful tool for federal prosecutors. This new statutory language broadens the statute’s application and has allowed federal prosecutors to seek a ten-year mandatory sentence for the unintended, accidental discharge of a firearm. The application of this statute subjects criminal defendants to inconsistent prosecution and stiff consecutive sentences that are ineligible for parole. . . .