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December 10, 2007

SCOTUS also rules for the defendant in Watson

Though much less consequential than the rulings in Gall and Kimbrough (basics here), the Watson case was also decided today by the Supreme Court.  Here's the basics from SCOTUSblog:

In the last of three rulings on Monday, the Court decided unanimously that one does not “use” a gun, for purposes of imposing a mandatory five-year sentence, if the person receives the gun in a trade for drugs.  Justice David H. Souter wrote the opinion in Watson v. U.S. (06-571).

The opinion in Watson (06-571) is here, and this ruling (along with Gall and Kimbrough) reinforce my view that the US Supreme Court is right now the most pro-defendant appellate court on criminal sentencing issues in the nation.  Whatever one thinks about the Court's purported moves to the right on other issues, in the arena of criminal sentencing, federal defendants certainly should be more hopeful arguing before the current Justices than before any other group of appellate judges.

December 10, 2007 at 10:31 AM | Permalink


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This might change the ATF's undercover modus operandi. But I doubt it.

Posted by: KAY | Dec 10, 2007 12:56:46 PM

The Watson opinion is amusing in its themes of the word "use" and belittling of the government position. Excerpts of language (enjoy!):

(a) The Government’s position lacks authority in either precedent
or regular English.

The Government’s first effort to trump ordinary English is re-
(c) Nor is the Government’s second effort to trump ordinary Eng-
lish persuasive.
Whatever the
tension between the prior result and the outcome here, law depends
on respect for language and would be served better by statutory
amendment than by racking statutory language to cover a policy it
fails to reach. Pp. 8–9.

But the suggestion is a tepid one
and falls short of supporting what is really an attempt to
draw a conclusion too specific from a premise too general.

Given ordinary meaning and the conventions of English,
we hold that a person does not “use” a firearm under
§924(c)(1)(A) when he receives it in trade for drugs.

Posted by: kathy | Dec 10, 2007 11:25:28 PM

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