Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Supreme Court Narrows Use of Gun Law in Drug Cases

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Supreme Court Narrows Use of Gun Law in Drug Cases

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court made it harder Wednesday to lengthen the prison sentence of federally convicted drug dealers who carry guns.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the prosecution must show "active employment of the firearm" to invoke a federal law that adds five years to the sentence of a convicted drug dealer who carried a gun while dealing drugs.

The question arose in two cases in the District of Columbia. In one, the federal court there tacked five years on the sentence of Roland J. Bailey because a loaded gun was found in his locked car trunk at the same time he had 30 grams of cocaine (a bit under an ounce) in the glove compartment.

The evidence was found when Bailey was pulled over in 1988 for a traffic violation. He was sentenced to 51 months for cocaine possession with intent to distribute and gun-possession, and an additional five years for gun use.

In the other case, Candisha Robinson, convicted in 1991 for selling crack cocaine out of her apartment to an undercover agent, got an added five years for having an unloaded .22-caliber pistol locked in a trunk in her bedroom closet.

Robinson was sentenced to eight years and one month on the selling charge, plus five years for the gun.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the interpretation of the law upheld by the lower courts "provides almost no limitation on the kind of possession that would be criminalized."

She said a defendant could be found guilty of using a gun if he or she was "brandishing, displaying, bartering, striking with and, most obviously, firing or attempting to fire a firearm." And even a drug-trafficking defendant who referred to a nearby gun to intimidate someone could be prosecuted under the high court's narrow reading, O'Connor said.

No one knows exactly how many cases might be affected, but Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern said, "We estimate the number is in the hundreds." Government lawyers must sort out the ruling's "retroactive implications," he said.

But Steven Roman, chief of the narcotics section in the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia, which prosecuted Bailey and Robinson, said, "We're talking about a relatively small number of cases; as many as half a dozen a year," he said. …

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