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Using a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Crime: Defining the Elements of the Mandatory Sentencing Provision of 18 USC 924(c)(1)

NCJ Number
Duquesne Law Review Volume: 30 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1991) Pages: 39-60
M J Riordan
Date Published
22 pages
Beginning in 1984, Congress enacted a series of mandatory minimum sentences targeted specifically at drug- related offenses, including the amendment to 18 USC 924(c) which incorporated an automatic 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for the use of a firearm during a violent crime and the passage of the Firearm Owners' Protection Act in 1986, which extended that 5-year minimum sentence to situations in which firearms were used to commit a drug-related crime.
Congress modified section 924(c) by substituting the phrase "during and in relation to" and eliminating the requirement that the firearm be carried unlawfully. Section 924(c) is not a specific intent clause, but is intended to punish offenders when there is proof of a relationship between the weapon and the predicate crime of drug trafficking. To apply section 924(c) to drug trafficking crimes there must be evidence of a transaction in which the firearm possessor intended to have the weapon available for possible use during the transaction or evidence proving that the firearm was strategically placed to be quickly and easily available for use during the transaction. The author notes that future court rulings could raise a vagueness issue in terms of the mandatory sentence provision of section 924(c). It is also possible that an argument could be made that sentencing a defendant under section 924(c) and under the predicate drug trafficking offense violates the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment. 165 notes