United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno

Facts of the Case

After a drug dealer stole cocaine from a drug distributor during a drug transaction in Texas, the distributor, an accused, and others, in seeking to find the dealer, drove from Texas to New Jersey to New York to Maryland while holding captive the middleman in the transaction. In Maryland, the accused took possession of a gun and threatened to kill the middleman. The middleman escaped, and the accused eventually was charged in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey with, among other offenses, conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, and violating 18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c)(1) (later amended), which prohibited using and carrying a firearm in relation to any crime of violence. After the District Court denied the accused’s motion to dismiss the § 924(c)(1) charge on the asserted basis that venue for trial of that charge was proper in only Maryland, which was the only federal judicial district in which the government had proved that the accused had used the gun, the accused was found guilty on both kidnapping charges and on § 924(c)(1) charge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the conviction under § 924(c)(1), after applying what it called the verb test in concluding that venue for a § 924(c)(1) charge was proper in only a district in which a defendant used or carried a firearm, and thus, was improper in New Jersey in this case, even though venue was proper there for the kidnapping charges.

Question

Is the venue for prosecuting a violation of 18 USC section 924(c)(1), which proscribes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence, proper only in the district were the firearm was used or carried?

CONCLUSION

No. In a 7-2 opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that [v]enue in a prosecution for using or carrying a firearm ‘during and in relation to any crime of violence’ in violation of section 924(c)(1) is proper in any district where the crime of violence was committed. Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that, A kidnapping…does not end until the victim is free. It does not make sense…to speak of it in discrete geographic fragments….[I]t does not matter that respondent used the revolver…only in Maryland because he did so ‘during and in relation to’ a kidnaping that was begun in Texas and continued in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. Justice Antonin Scalia, with joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, dissented, expressing the view that the crime defined in 924(c)(1) could be committed only where the defendant both engages in the acts making up the predicate offense and uses or carries the gun. Moreover, Justice Scalia argued, because the accused’s use of the gun occurred only in Maryland, venue was proper only there.

Case Information

  • Citation: 526 US 275 (1999)
  • Argued: Dec 7, 1998
  • Decided Mar 30, 1999