Monday, December 10, 2007

Supreme Court Season

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun to announce decisions on cases argued early in this term. I just read an interesting one - Watson v. United States. In Watson, the court held that a person who receives a firearm in trade for drugs has not "used" that firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime and is not eligible for the mandatory sentence that would entail. What makes this interesting is that the court had already held, in Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223, that a person who gives a firearm in trade for drugs has used it in a drug trafficking crime and is eligible for the mandatory sentence.

They reached these opposite conclusions through some very tortured analysis of the English language. It seems that a person who trades the firearm and receives the drugs is using the firearm to get drugs, the same way that other people use money to get groceries. On the other hand, the person who receives the firearm and gives the drugs cannot be said to have used the firearm under any possible normal usage of the word uses.

Does this remind anyone of the whole "it depends on what the meaning of the word is is" debacle?

Personally, I don't think either person should be eligible for the mandatory sentence under the circumstances of a trade. I think the reasonable interpretation of the word uses in these cases should be that the person uses the firearm as a firearm, not as a medium of exchange. It is interesting how far the court will go sometimes to reach a result.


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