05 March 2014

Law in Plain English: Rosemond v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogRosemond v. United States

Argument: Nov 12 2013 (Aud.)

Did you know? Rosemond is represented by John Elwood, a blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy and writer of the Relist Watch at SCOTUSblog.

Discussion: Rosemond was involved in a drug transaction-gone-wrong. He was punched in the face by another man who then fled. Someone then pulled out a nine-millimeter handgun and fired nine or ten shots at the fleeing man. At trial, the District Court instructed jurors on both of the Government's theories, that Rosemond was the shooter and, alternatively, that he aided and abetted another's use of a firearm during the drug deal. Based on a written statement and testimony at trial that Rosemond was the shooter, jurors found Rosemond guilty of using and discharging a firearm during a federal drug-trafficking offense (among other charges). However, they were not required to specify under which theory they convicted. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, but acknowledged that most other circuits require jurors to find, additionally, that the defendant took some action to facilitate or encourage his cohort's use of the firearm.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the offense of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 2, requires proof of (i) intentional facilitation or encouragement of the use of the firearm, as held by the First, Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, or (ii) simple knowledge that the principal used a firearm during a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime in which the defendant also participated, as held by the Sixth, Tenth, and District of Columbia Circuits.

Holding: In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Government establishes that a defendant aided and abetted a §924(c) violation by proving that the defendant actively participated in the underlying drug trafficking or violent crime with advance knowledge that a confederate would use or carry a gun during the crime’s commission. As a result, the Court ruled that the trial judge's jury instructions were erroneous, and remanded the case to determine whether there was harmless error.
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