Watson v. United States

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Watson v. United States, 76 U.S.L.W. 4020 (Dec. 10, 2007) was a case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court which held that a defendant who trades his drugs for a gun does not "use[]" a firearm "during and in relation to ... [a] drug trafficking crime" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).

Justice David Souter wrote the opinion for the Court, and there were no dissents.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a separate concurrence, noting how the Court was contradicting its prior holding in Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223 (1993), in which the Court held that trading a gun for drugs did constitute a "use[]" of a firearm in a drug trafficking offense. She would have overruled that precedent:

Accordingly, I would overrule Smith, and thereby render our precedent both coherent and consistent with normal usage. Cf. Henslee v. Union Planters Nat. Bank & Trust Co., 335 U.S. 595, 600, 69 S. Ct. 290, 93 L. Ed. 259, 1949-1 C.B. 223 (1949) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting) ("Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.").

Analysis of Petition for Cert

This case presents a question to the U.S. Supreme Court about criminal law with respect to firearms.[1]

18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) criminalizes the "use" of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense and imposes a mandatory consecutive sentence of at least five years' imprisonment. In Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995), the U.S. Supreme Court held that "use" of a firearm under § 924(c) means "active employment."[2]

The question presented in this petition for certiorari is:

  • Whether mere receipt of an unloaded firearm as payment for drugs constitutes "use" of the firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(l)(A) and this Court's decision in Bailey.


  1. Watson v. United States, No. 06-571. Certiorari granted Feb. 26, 2007. Ruling below: 191 Fed. Appx. 326 (5th Cir. 2006).
  2. Id. at 144.