Muscarello v. United States

PETITIONER: Muscarello
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 96-1654
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 125 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1998

James A. Feldman - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent in both cases
Norman S. Zalkind - Argued the cause for petitioners Cleveland and Gray-Santana in No. 96-8837
Robert H. Klonoff - Argued the cause for petitioner Muscarello in No. 96-1654

Facts of the case

18 USC section 924(c)(1) subjects a person who "uses or carries a firearm" "during and in relation to" a "drug trafficking crime" to a 5-year mandatory prison term. In 96-1654, police officers found a handgun locked in Frank J. Muscarello's truck's glove compartment. Muscarello was transporting marijuana for sale in his truck. Muscarello argued that his "carrying" of the gun in the glove compartment did not fall within the scope of the statutory word "carries." In 96-8837, federal agents found drugs and guns in Donald Cleveland and Enrique Gray-Santana's car at a drug-sale point. The Court of Appeals, in both cases, found that the defendants had violated section 924(c)(1).


Does the fact that guns were found in a locked glove compartment, or the trunk, of a car, preclude the application of 18 U section 924(c)(1), which 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"?

Media for Muscarello v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1998 in Muscarello v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 96-1654, Frank Muscarello v. United States, and Number 96-8837, Donald E. Cleveland and Enrique GraySantana v. United States.

Mr. Klonoff.

Robert H. Klonoff:

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

This case raises the issue left open in Bailey v. United States, what it means to carry a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1).

Petitioner submits that for four principal reasons carries a firearm means, bears a firearm on one's person.

First, the plain meaning of the phrase, carries a firearm, directly supports petitioner's position.

Dictionaries repeatedly and consistently equate carries a firearm with having a firearm on the person.

Second, the Government has not cited a single dictionary that defines the phrase, carries a firearm, to mean transporting or possessing a firearm in a vehicle.

Instead, the Government improperly isolates the word carry, rather than looking at the specific context, carries a firearm, but although the term carry has multiple definitions, this Court has made clear in Deal v. United States and elsewhere that when a dictionary offers multiple definitions, all but one of those meanings is ordinarily eliminated by context.

Here, the context is carries a firearm.

Third, the Government's view would make carries a firearm the same as transporting a firearm, but section 924(b) and numerous other gun provisions use the word transport, showing that Congress knew how to get across the concept of transport when it wanted to.

David H. Souter:

Do any of those other provisions speak of transport in relation to a crime of violence, or a drug crime, or is it just transport in the abstract?

Robert H. Klonoff:

Well, there are a whole variety of provisions, Justice Souter.

I guess one that comes to mind is 18 U.S.C. 926 (a), which talks about transporting, shipping or receiving a firearm or transporting a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such a firearm.

That is the closest analogy.

Antonin Scalia:

For an unlawful purpose, you say?

Robert H. Klonoff:

No, it does not use that--

Antonin Scalia:

For a lawful purpose.

For a lawful purpose?

It's a crime to transport it for a lawful purpose?

Robert H. Klonoff:

--Not... transporting, shipping or receiving for any lawful purpose from where he may legally possess.

Antonin Scalia:

But it--

--That's a crime?

Robert H. Klonoff:

Yes, Your Honor.

Antonin Scalia:

I didn't realize we'd gone that far yet.


In any case, I take it the other references to transport as a prohibition did not make the limitation that this prohibition has on carries.

Robert H. Klonoff:

Not in that precise terminology, that's correct.

David H. Souter:

So that to read it as the Government would read it I think probably would not, therefore, just duplicate, in effect, all of the other prohibitions on transportation, correct?

Robert H. Klonoff:

Well, we think that it would.