United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Rodriguez-Moreno
LOCATION: Alden's Workplace

DOCKET NO.: 97-1139
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 275 (1999)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1998
DECIDED: Mar 30, 1999

ADVOCATES:
John P. McDonald - Argued the cause for the respondent
Paul R. Q. Wolfson - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Jacinto Rodriguez-Moreno and others were hired by a drug distributor to find a drug dealer who stole cocaine from the distributor while holding captive the botched deal's middleman, Ephrain Avendano. In pursuit of the dealer, Rodriguez-Moreno took Avendano from Texas to New Jersey to New York to Maryland. In Maryland, Rodriguez-Moreno took possession of a revolver and threatened to kill Avendano. However, Avendano escaped and called the police. Rodriguez-Moreno was then arrested. Rodriguez-Moreno was charged in a federal District Court with, among kidnapping and other violations, using and carrying a firearm in relation to Avendano's kidnapping, in violation of 18 USC section 924(c)(1), which proscribes using or carrying a firearm "during and in relation to any crime of violence." Rodriguez-Moreno moved to dismiss the firearm count for lack of venue. Rodriguez-Moreno argued that the only place where the Government had proved he had actually used a gun was Maryland and, therefore, venue was proper only in Maryland. The court denied the motion and a jury found Rodriguez-Moreno guilty of the count. In reversing, the Court of Appeals applied a "verb test," under which a violation of section 924(c)(1) is committed only in the district where a defendant "uses" or "carries" a firearm. Thus, the New Jersey court venue for the firearm count was improper.

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?

Media for United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1998 in United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 30, 1999 in United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 97-1139, United States versus Rodriguez Moreno, will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Respondent and his cohorts committed a crime of kidnapping that began in Texas and was carried out among other places in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland.

At one point while in Maryland respondent used a 357 magnum revolver to threaten the hostages’ life.

He was arrested and tried along with several codefendants in United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on charges of kidnapping and using and carrying a firearm during and and in relation to the kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1).

Respondent moved to dismiss the firearm charge arguing that venue for the charge was proper solely in Maryland.

The only place where the government can prove that he used the gun.

The District Court denied the motion but on a two to one vote, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed.

It held that the 924(c)(1) charge offense is committed only where defendant actually uses or carries a gun and hence could only be prosecuted in that place and for our purposes that would be Maryland.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse.

The Constitution requires that crimes be tried in the place where they were committed.

As we confirmed just last term in United States versus Cabrales, the location of an offense must be determined from the nature of the crime alleged and the location of the act or acts constituting it.

The firearm offebnse at issue here provides that whoever during and in relation to any crime of violence uses or carries a firearm, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for five years.

The offense contains two essential conduct elements: using or carrying a firearm and committing a crime of violence, in this case kidnapping.

As the Court explains the United States vresus Lombardo, where crime consist of distinct parts which have different localities the whole maybe tried where any part can be proved to have been done.

Here respondent used the gun in Maryland during and in relation to a kidnapping offense that began in Texas and continued in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Kidnapping was committed in all of the places that any part of it took place and venue for the kidnapping charge was therefore proper in New Jersey.

The firearm charge was incorporated to kidnapping as a conduct element of the offense could be tried there as well.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Stevens has joined.