Watson wanted a gun. He
talked to a guy (who was an informant), who offered to trade him a gun for
some drugs. Watson acquired the drugs, made the deal and was arrested.
Watson pled guilty, but
appealed his sentence.
Watson had received an extra
60 month sentence for "use of a firearm during and in relation to a
drug trafficking crime" (18 U.S.C. §924 (c)(1)(A)).
The Appellate Court affirmed
the sentence. Watson appealed.
The US Supreme Court vacated
The US Supreme Court looked
to the ordinary usage of the word
"use" and found that it did not include "receive".
"The Government may
say that a person 'uses' a firearm simply by receiving it in a barter
transaction, but no one else would. A boy who trades an apple to get a
granola bar is sensibly said to use the apple, but one would never guess
which way this commerce actually flowed from hearing that the boy used
The Court noted a few other
cases, but said they were unhelpful.
The Court looked to Smith
v. United States (508 U.S. 223
(1993)), where they found that trading a gun to get some drugs (the reverse
of this case) counts as "using" a gun under §924(c)(1)(A), even though there was no "violent
The Court looked to Bailey
v. United States (516 U.S. 137
(1995)), and found that just possessing a gun while dealing drugs did
not count as "using" a gun under §924(c)(1)(A). It requires "active employment."
unsuccessfully argued that "use" could be interpreted as
"use later, after buying it" (Watson probably intended to 'use'
the gun at some point in the future), but the Court found that are
stretching the definition too far.
The prosecutor argued that
there should be symmetry between this case and Smith, but the Court found that §924(c)(1)(A) only applies to using the gun "in
furtherance of a drug trafficking crime." Whatever Watson intended
to do with the gun, the drug trafficking crime was over as soon as he
sold the drugs.
The prosecution suggested
that, "it would be strange to penalize one side of a gun-for-drugs
exchange but not the other."