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Law School Case Brief

Watson v. United States - 552 U.S. 74, 128 S. Ct. 579 (2007)

Rule:

18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c)(1)(A) sets a mandatory minimum sentence, depending on the facts, for a defendant who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, uses or carries a firearm.

Facts:

Defendant was indicted after trading a controlled substance for a pistol. He pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking offense but asserted that an additional mandatory minimum sentence was improperly imposed under 18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c)(1)(A) for using a firearm during and in relation to the offense. On appeal, the defendant’s sentence was affirmed. Defendant petitioned for further review by the United States Supreme Court.

Issue:

Does the trading of narcotics for a firearm constitute use of the firearm?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The judgment affirming defendant's sentence was reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding unanimously that defendant's trade of the narcotics for the firearm did not constitute use of the firearm during and in relation to the drug transaction within the ordinary or natural meaning of the term "use" in § 924(c)(1)(A). While a trade of a firearm for drugs would constitute use of the firearm by the recipient of the drugs to accomplish the trade, the converse was not true since defendant merely received the firearm and did not in any manner use the firearm.

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