McLaughlin v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 85-5189
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 476 US 16 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1986
DECIDED: Apr 29, 1986

Christopher J. Wright - Argued the cause for the respondent
Stephen J. Cribari - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In the morning of July 26, 1984, Lamont McLaughlin and a companion, both wearing stocking masks, entered a bank in Baltimore. McLaughlin displayed a handgun and ordered everyone in the bank to put his hands up and not to move. While McLaughlin remained in the lobby area holding the gun, his companion placed about $3,400 in a brown paper bag. A police officer apprehended the two as they left the bank. The police then found that McLaughlin's gun was not loaded. Ultimately, McLaughlin pleaded guilty to charges of bank robbery and bank larceny and was found guilty of assault during a bank robbery "by the use of a dangerous weapon." The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Is an unloaded handgun a "dangerous weapon" within the meaning of the federal bank robbery statute?

Media for McLaughlin v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1986 in McLaughlin v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Cribari?

Stephen J. Cribari:

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

The issue in this case is whether an unloaded handgun is a dangerous weapon in violation of Section (d) of the Bank Robberty Statute 18 U.S.C. 2113.

There are two points that I would like to make.

First of all, that an unloaded handgun on the facts of this case is not and should not be a dangerous weapon.

Secondly, that even if an unloaded handgun can be a dangerous weapon, it ought not to be determined to be a dangerous weapon by a decision of the Court of Appeals, but rather should remain a factual question for the factfinder.

The facts in this case are extremely, concisely stated and are in pages eight to ten of the Joint Appendix.

The short of the matter is that Mr. McLaughlin and a co-defendant entered a bank and while the co-defendant emptied several teller stations of funds, Mr. McLaughlin remained in the lobby area of the bank, pointed a handgun generally at the people in the bank and told them not to move.

Warren E. Burger:

What do you suppose they thought about that gun?

Stephen J. Cribari:

Sir, I think they thought that that gun was probably loaded and I think there is no argument to be made that they were not in some degree frightened and there is no argument to be made that they had the duty to examine that gun.

The question is how will we determine for 2113(d) purposes that the gun was dangerous.

Certainly if the gun was loaded the gun could inflict a harm that it threatens to inflict and under the courts that have applied an objective test that has been the test.

Thurgood Marshall:

Would a club, a metal club be a dangerous weapon in such an incident?

Stephen J. Cribari:

Justice Marshall, I think that a club could be a dangerous weapon in such an instance.

If the person remains in the lobby area of a bank--

Thurgood Marshall:

That could be?

Stephen J. Cribari:

--I think that almost anything--

Thurgood Marshall:

Well, could a gun be a club?

Stephen J. Cribari:

--Well, certainly--

Thurgood Marshall:

Could a gun be a club?

Stephen J. Cribari:

--Yes, certainly a gun could be a club and probably a metal club at that.

Thurgood Marshall:

Well, it is dangerous then, isn't it?

Stephen J. Cribari:

Well, I think it is only dangerous, and this is certainly the analysis used by some of the courts, it is only dangerous if there is a threat to use it as a club.

If the only threat is to use the gun as a gun and the gun does not work as a gun, the gun is not dangerous as a gun.

Now, the courts that have adopted... like the Fourth Circuit... a presumption that any weapon, loaded or unloaded, used during a bank robbery is, as a matter of law, a dangerous weapon.

I have certainly reasoned that the fear of the victims, the potential for using the gun as a club, or the potential for third-party response, for example, by police forces, makes the situation dangerous, but should we reason from the situation back to the gun?

If we do, then even non-guns would be dangerous weapons.

The person who goes into the bank, puts his hand in his pocket and claims that he has a gun could create the same amount of danger as the person who actually displays a gun.

By the reasoning of those courts, a dangerous weapon has been used even though in one instance no weapon at all has been used.

After this Court's decision in--