Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 91-8674. Argued March 23, 1993—Decided June 1, 1993

After petitioner Smith offered to trade an automatic weapon to an under-cover officer for cocaine, he was charged with numerous firearm and drug trafficking offenses. Title 18 U. S. C. 924(c)(1) requires the imposition of specified penalties if the defendant, "during and in relation to . . . [a] drug trafficking crime[,] uses . . . a firearm." In affirming Smith's conviction and sentence, the Court of Appeals held that 924(c)(1)'s plain language imposes no requirement that a firearm be "use[d]" as a weapon, but applies to any use of a gun that facilitates in any manner the commission of a drug offense.

Held: A criminal who trades his firearm for drugs "uses" it "during and in relation to . . . [a] drug trafficking crime" within the meaning of 924(c)(1). Pp. 227-241. (a) Section 924's language and structure establish that exchanging a firearm for drugs may constitute "use" within 924(c)(1)'s meaning. Smith's handling of his gun falls squarely within the everyday meaning and dictionary definitions of "use." Had Congress intended 924(c)(1) to require proof that the defendant not only used his firearm but used it in a specific manner—as a weapon—it could have so indicated in the statute. However, Congress did not. The fact that the most familiar example of "us[ing] . . . a firearm" is "use" as a weapon does not mean that the phrase excludes all other ways in which a firearm might be used. The United States Sentencing Guidelines, even if the Court were to assume their relevance in the present context, do not support the dissent's narrow interpretation that "to use" a firearm can mean only to use it for its intended purposes, such as firing and brandishing, since Guidelines Manual 2B3.1(b)(2) explicitly contemplates "othe[r] use[s]" that are not limited to the intended purposes identified by the dissent. The dissent's approach, moreover, would exclude the use of a gun to pistol-whip a victim as the intended purpose of a gun is that it be fired or brandished, not that it be used as a bludgeon. In addition, Congress affirmatively demonstrated that it meant to include transactions like Smith's as "us[ing] a firearm" within the meaning of 924(c)(1) by employing similar language in 924(d)(1), which subjects to forfeiture any "firearm . . . intended to be used" in various listed offenses. Many of the listed offenses involve "using" the firearm not as


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