Bousley v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Location of the oil rig Oncale worked on

DOCKET NO.: 96-8516
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 614 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1998
DECIDED: May 18, 1998

L. Marshall Smith - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent, on behalf of the United States
Thomas C. Walsh - Argued the cause, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, in support of the judgment

Facts of the case

In 1990, Kenneth Eugene Bousley pleaded guilty to "using" a firearm "during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime," in violation of 18 USC section 924(c)(1). Ultimately, Bousley sough habeas relief, claiming his guilty plea lacked a factual basis because a connection between the firearms, located in the bedroom, and the location where the drug trafficking occurred, in the garage, was not shown in either the evidence or the plea. Dismissing the petition, the District Court found that a factual basis for the plea existed because the guns were in close proximity to the drugs and were readily accessible. In affirming, the Court of Appeals rejected Bousley's argument, among others, that his guilty plea was not knowing and intelligent because he was misinformed about the elements of a section 924(c)(1) offense.


May defendants who pleaded guilty to "using" a firearm in violation of 18 USC section 924(c)(1) contest the validity of their convictions by claiming that their guilty pleas were not knowing and intelligent because they were misinformed by the District Court as to the nature of the charged crime?

Media for Bousley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1998 in Bousley v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 96-8516, Kenneth Eugene Bousley v. United States.

Mr. Smith.

L. Marshall Smith:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This is an unusual case in that it may fairly be said that this defendant is in prison for acts that do not amount to a crime.

This Court's unanimous opinion in the Bailey case made it clear that mere possession of weapons near drugs does not amount to use under the Federal statute under which Mr. Bousley was convicted.

It is at the core of habeas corpus jurisprudence to release prisoners who are held without legal authority.

Mr. Bousley is in this position because at the time he entered his guilty plea to the charge under 924(c) the charges had been explained to him in language of possession.

However, the Bailey case makes it clear that one cannot be convicted of this... violating this statute lest there's been proof of active employment.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

In other words, this is just really a somewhat standard argument that the Rule 11 colloquy was inadequate?

L. Marshall Smith:

Your Honor, it's not... no, I wouldn't say that, Your Honor.

There's much more to it than that.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, I take it that even pre Bailey you would have this same objection.

You talk about possession, not use.

L. Marshall Smith:

That's correct, the argument would be the same.

The difficulty here is that it's not just the colloquy but it's the entire presentation of the nature of the charges to Mr. Bousley led him to believe and, indeed, caused the reflection that this was a mere possession crime, rather than an active employment crime.

As a result, his guilty plea cannot be construed as--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, but then that goes to the next argument that the law has changed in your view, et cetera, but if this were pre Bailey, and Bailey had never been on the books, would you... you would still say, I take it, that the plea was inadequately counseled and that the colloquy under Rule 11 was inadequate.

L. Marshall Smith:

--Yes, Your Honor, certainly the colloquy was--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Because they talked about possession, not use.

L. Marshall Smith:

--That's correct, but again, in order for a guilty plea to be valid, it must be knowledgeable and it must be intelligent and when the crime is explained as something other than what the statute actually describes, the plea cannot be intelligent or knowing, because the defendant is not aware and because the presentation does not comply with the statute, so it's more than just a Rule 11 violation.


Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, I think that's a conventional argument and that the plea bargain and the fact that he had the indictment, the plea... he signed the plea agreement, did he not?

L. Marshall Smith:

--He did sign the plea agreement.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

And that adequate... and that sets forth use.

L. Marshall Smith:


No, Your Honor.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

It did not?

L. Marshall Smith:

The plea agreement uses the word use.

The plea agreement, however, describes the nature of the conduct that amounts to use as ownership and possession, and this is consistent throughout the proceedings that--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, it says count 2 charges that defendant was using a firearm.