United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno, 526 U.S. 275 (1999)

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

No. 97-1139. Argued December 7, 1998—Decided March 30, 1999

A drug distributor hired respondent and others to find a New York drug dealer who stole cocaine from him during a Texas drug transaction and to hold captive the middleman in the transaction, Ephrain Avendano, during the search. The group drove from Texas to New Jersey to New York to Maryland, taking Avendano with them. Respondent took possession of a revolver in Maryland and threatened to kill Avendano. Avendano eventually escaped and called police, who arrested respondent and the others. Respondent was charged in a New Jersey District Court with, inter alia, using and carrying a firearm in relation to Avendano's kidnaping, in violation of 18 U. S. C. 924(c)(1). He moved to dismiss that count, arguing that venue was proper only in Maryland, the only place where the Government had proved he had actually used a gun. The court denied the motion, and respondent was convicted of the 924(c)(1) offense. The Third Circuit reversed. After applying what it called the "verb test," it determined that venue was proper only in the district where a defendant actually uses or carries a firearm.

Held: Venue in a prosecution for using or carrying a firearm "during and in relation to any crime of violence" in violation of 924(c)(1) is proper in any district where the crime of violence was committed. Under the locus delicti test, a court must initially identify the conduct constituting the offense (the nature of the offense) and then discern where the criminal acts occurred. See United States v. Cabrales, 524 U. S. 1, 6-7. Although the Third Circuit relied on the statute's verbs to determine the nature of the offense, this Court has never held that verbs are the sole consideration, to the exclusion of other relevant statutory language. A defendant's violent acts are essential conduct elements of the 924(c)(1) offense despite being embedded in the prepositional phrase, "during and in relation to any crime of violence." Thus, the statute contains two distinct conduct elements—as is relevant to this case, using and carrying a gun and committing a kidnaping. Where a crime consists of distinct parts which have different localities, venue is proper for the whole charge where any part can be proved to have been committed. See United States v. Lombardo, 241 U. S. 73. Respondent's argument that 924(c)(1) is a "point-in-time" offense that only is committed in the place where the kidnaping and use of a gun coincide is unpersuasive. Kidnap-


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