Robinson v. United States

PETITIONER: Robinson
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Texas General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 94-7448
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 516 US 137 (1995)
ARGUED: Oct 30, 1995
DECIDED: Dec 06, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Alan Edward Untereiner - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Alan E. Untereiner - for petitioners
Michael Dreeben - for respondent
Michael R. Dreeben - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Roland Bailey and Candisha Robinson were each convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(1), which, in relevant part, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence upon a person who "uses or carries a firearm" both "during and in relation to" a predicate offense. Bailey's Section 924(c)(1) conviction was based on a loaded pistol which the police found inside a bag in the locked trunk of a car he was driving after they arrested him for possession of illegal drugs. Robinson's Section 924(c)(1) conviction was based on an unloaded, holstered firearm which the police, executing a search warrant, found locked in a trunk in her bedroom closet, along with drugs and money from an earlier controlled buy. The D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, upheld the Section 924(c)(1) convictions, interpreting "use" of a gun in violation of Section 924(c)(1) in accordance with an "accessibility and proximity" test.

Question

Is evidence of the proximity and accessibility of a firearm to drugs or drug proceeds alone sufficient to support a conviction for "use" of a firearm during and in relation to a predicate narcotics offense under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(1)?

Media for Robinson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 30, 1995 in Robinson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 06, 1995 in Robinson v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 94-7448, Bailey against United States and the companion case of Robinson against United States will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

These consolidated cases come to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The petitioners Bailey and Robinson were each convicted of federal drug offenses and the violating 18 U.S. Code Section 924(c)(1) which is the Section imposing a five-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment upon a person who during and in relation to any drug trafficking crime, uses or carries a firearm.

Both the petitioners argue that the evidence here was insufficient to support a finding that they had used a firearm within the meaning of the statute.

Bailey’s conviction under Section 924(c)(1) was based on the loaded pistol which the police found inside the bag in the trunk of his car.

After he was arrested for possession of cocaine found in a car’s passenger compartment.

Robinson’s conviction of gun use was based on the unloaded holstered derringer that was found locked in a trunk in a bedroom closet during the execution of a search warrant that followed control buys of crack cocaine from her apartment.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuits sitting en banc consolidated the two cases and affirmed both convictions.

The court applied an accessibility and proximity tests to determine use within Section 924(c)(1) and held in both cases the firearm was sufficiently excessively and proximate to the drugs or drug proceeds that the jury can properly invert that the defendant had placed the firearm in order to further the drug offenses or to protect possession of the drugs.

We granted certiorari to settle confusion among the Courts of Appeals as to the proper understanding of the term "use" in the statute.

Today, we hold that to sustain a conviction under the use prong of Section 924(c)(1), the government must show that the defendant actively employed the firearm during and in relation to the predicated crime.

The statutory term "use" must connote more than mere possession of a firearm by a person who commits a drug offense.

If Congress had intended the statute to read so broadly it would have so provided as it has for example in many other drug crime statutes.

The language, the context, and the history of the statute indicate that Congress intended use to have an active meaning in the sense of to avail oneself of or to convert to one service.

While a broad waiting of use undermines any function for the statutory term "carry" the more limited active interpretation of 'use' preserves a meaningful role for the criminalization of carrying a firearm as an alternative basis for a charge.

Section 924's statutory context as well as its amendment history but resist our interpretation.

Our recent decision in Smith versus the United States in which we held that a barter of a gun for drugs is a 'use', is not to the contrary.

Although there we decline a limit to term "use" to use as a weapon our interpretation of the statute nevertheless adhered to an active meaning of the term.

Under the interpretation, we announce today "use" can include acts of brandishing, displaying, bartering, striking with, and of course firing or attempting a firearm and it can even include reference to a firearm in the offender’s possession.

Having determined that "use" denotes active employment we have to conclude that the evidence was insufficient to support either Bailey’s or Robinson’s conviction for "use" under the statute.

Both judgments are reversed, and because the Court of Appeals did not consider liability under the "carry" prong of the Statute. we remand for consideration at that bases for upholding the convictions.

The opinion is unanimous.