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Muscarello v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

March 23, 1998, Argued ; June 8, 1998, Decided 1 

Nos. 96-1654 AND 96-8837

Opinion

 [*126]   [***115]   [**1913]   JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

 A provision in the firearms chapter of the federal criminal code imposes a 5-year mandatory prison term upon a person who "uses or carries a firearm" "during and in relation to" a "drug trafficking crime." 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). The question before us is whether the phrase "carries a firearm" is limited to the carrying of firearms on the person. We hold that it is not so limited. Rather, it also applies to a person  [*127]  who knowingly possesses and conveys firearms in a vehicle, including in the locked glove compartment  [**1914]  or trunk of a car, which the person accompanies.

The question arises in two cases, which we have consolidated for argument. The defendant in the first case, Frank J. Muscarello, unlawfully sold marijuana, which he carried in his truck to the place of sale. Police officers found a handgun locked in the truck's glove compartment. During plea proceedings, Muscarello admitted that he had "carried" the gun "for protection in relation" to the drug offense, App. in No. 96-1654, p.  [****5]  12, though he later claimed to the contrary, and added that, in any event, his "carrying" of the gun in the glove compartment did not fall within the scope of the statutory word "carries." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 96-1654, p. 10a.

The defendants in the second case, Donald Cleveland and Enrique Gray-Santana, placed several guns in a bag, put the bag in the trunk of a car, and then traveled by car to a proposed drug-sale point, where they intended to steal drugs from the sellers. Federal agents at the scene stopped them, searched the cars, found the guns and drugs, and arrested them.

In both cases the Courts of Appeals found that the defendants had "carried" the guns during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense. 106 F.3d 636, 639 (CA5 1997); 106 F.3d 1056, 1068 (CA1 1997). We granted certiorari to determine whether the fact that the guns were found in the locked glove compartment, or the trunk, of a car, precludes application of § 924(c)(1). We conclude that it does not.

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524 U.S. 125 *; 118 S. Ct. 1911 **; 141 L. Ed. 2d 111 ***; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 3879 ****; 66 U.S.L.W. 4459; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4310; 98 Daily Journal DAR 5944; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 2920; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 595

FRANK J. MUSCARELLO, PETITIONER, 96-1654 v. UNITED STATES; DONALD E. CLEVELAND AND ENRIQUE GRAY-SANTANA, PETITIONERS, 96-8837 v. UNITED STATES

Prior History:  [****1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT. ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.

United States v. Muscarello, 106 F.3d 636, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 2726 (5th Cir. La., 1997)United States v. Cleveland, 106 F.3d 1056, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 3075 (1st Cir. Mass., 1997)

Disposition: No. 96-1654, 106 F.3d 636, and No. 96-8837, 106 F.3d 1056, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

firearm, gun, carries, transport, Dictionary, sentence, weapon, arms, convey, words, trunk, glove compartment, carry a gun, locked, Guidelines, mandatory, ships, lawfully possess, cases, ammunition, provisions, possesses, traveling, lenity, truck, active employment, drug trafficking, definitions, quotations, ambiguity

Criminal Law & Procedure, Weapons Offenses, Possession of Weapons, General Overview, Admiralty & Maritime Law, Maritime Forfeitures & Penalties, Controlled Substances, Delivery, Distribution & Sale, Criminal Offenses, Trafficking in Weapons, Penalties, Sentencing, Imposition of Sentence, Factors, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Interpretation, Rule of Lenity