18 U.S.C. § 924(c): Liability for Both Parties to a Guns-for-Drugs Trade, a Criticism of United States v. Westmoreland
John K. Mehochko   |   1999 U. Ill. L. Rev.

Since Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) to criminalize using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking offense, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have struggled with the definition of "use" under the statute. Even after the Supreme Court addressed the definition of "use" in relation to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) on two occasions, the courts still are divided regarding whether a gun traded for drugs constitutes "use" of a firearm under the statute for parties on both sides of the transaction.

By reviewing the Supreme Court's opinions, the federal courts' analyses, and public policy considerations, this note evaluates whether 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) assesses criminal liability for "use" of a firearm to both sides of a guns-for-drugs transaction or only to the party offering the gun for barter. The author concludes that to remain consistent with the spirit and language of the statute and to support compelling public policy rationales, the courts should define "use" under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) broadly and assess liability to parties on both sides of a guns-for-drugs transaction. For prosecutors residing in jurisdictions that utilize a narrow definition of "use" of a firearm, the author provides alternative prosecutorial techniques to circumvent a narrow interpretation of "use" and find the parties criminally liable under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for "use" of a firearm on both sides of a guns-for-drugs transaction.