|Bailey v. United States (94-7448), 516 U.S. 137 (1996). |
[ O'Connor ]
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
BAILEY v. UNITED
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit
Petitioners Bailey and Robinson were each convicted of federal drug offenses and of violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), which, in relevant part, imposes a prison term upon a person who "during and in relation to any . . . drug trafficking crime . . . uses or carries a firearm." Bailey's §924(c)(1) conviction was based on a loaded pistol that the police found inside a bag in his locked car trunk after they arrested him for possession of cocaine revealed by a search of the car's passenger compartment. The unloaded, holstered firearm that provided the basis for Robinson's §924(c)(1) conviction was found locked in a trunk in her bedroom closet after she was arrested for a number of drug related offenses. There was no evidence in either case that the defendant actively employed the firearm in any way. In consolidating the cases and affirming the convictions, the Court of Appeals sitting en banc applied an "accessibility and proximity" test to determine "use" within §924(c)(1)'s meaning, holding, in both cases, that the gun was sufficiently accessible and proximate to the drugs or drug proceeds that the jury could properly infer that the defendant had placed the gun in order to further the drug offenses or to protect the possession of the drugs.
1. Section 924(c)(1) requires evidence sufficient to show an active employment of the firearm by the defendant, a use that makes the firearm an operative factor in relation to the predicate offense. Evidence of the proximity and accessibility of the firearm to drugs or drug proceeds is not alone sufficient to support a conviction for "use" under the statute. Pp. 6-14.
(a) Although the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that "use" must connote more than mere possession of a firearm by a person who commits a drug offense, the court's accessibility and proximity standard renders "use" virtually synonymous with "possession" and makes any role for the statutory word "carries" superfluous. Section §924(c)(1)'s language instead indicates that Congress intended "use" in the active sense of "to avail oneself of." Smith v. United States, 508 U. S. ___, ___ . This reading receives further support from §924(c)(1)'s context within the statutory scheme, and neither the section's amendment history nor Smith, supra, at ___, is to the contrary. Thus, to sustain a conviction under the "use" prong of §924(c)(1), the Government must show that the defendant actively employed the firearm during and in relation to the predicate crime. Under this reading, "use" includes the acts of brandishing, displaying, bartering, striking with, and firing or attempting to fire, a firearm, as well as the making of a reference to a firearm in a defendant's possession. It does not include mere placement of a firearm for protection at or near the site of a drug crime or its proceeds or paraphernalia, nor the nearby concealment of a gun to be at the ready for an imminent confrontation. Pp. 6-14.
(b) The evidence was insufficient to support either Bailey's or Robinson's §924(c)(1) conviction for "use" under the active employment reading of that word. Pp. 14-15.
2. However, because the Court of Appeals did not consider liability under the "carry" prong of §924(c)(1) as a basis for upholding these convictions, the cases must be remanded. P. 15.
O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
* Together with No. 94-7492, Robinson v. United States, also on certiorari to the same court.