U.S. v. Bailey

Decision Date04 October 1994
Docket Number92-3062,Nos. 90-3119,s. 90-3119
Citation36 F.3d 106
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. Roland J. BAILEY, Appellant. UNITED STATES of America v. Candisha Summerita ROBINSON a/k/a Candysha Robinson, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

James G. Duncan (appointed by the court) argued the cause and filed the briefs, for appellant Bailey.

David B. Smith (appointed by the court) argued the cause and filed the briefs, for appellant Robinson.

John R. Fisher, Asst. U.S. Atty., argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Atty., and Elizabeth H. Danello, Asst. U.S. Atty Elizabeth Trosman, Odessa F. Vincent, Thomas C. Black, and William E. Lawler, III, Asst. U.S. Attys., entered appearances.


Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge GINSBURG.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge WALD.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge STEPHEN F. WILLIAMS, in which Circuit Judges SILBERMAN and BUCKLEY concur.

Separate dissenting statement filed by Circuit Judge SILBERMAN.

GINSBURG, Circuit Judge:

This consolidated case involves two separate challenges, one by appellant Roland Bailey and one by appellant Candisha Robinson, to their convictions under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c)(1). In relevant part, that section imposes a five-year term of imprisonment upon anyone who "during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime ... uses or carries a firearm." We have long required that in order to support a conviction under Sec. 924(c)(1), the government must demonstrate both a "nexus ... between a particular drug offender and the firearm," United States v. Long, 905 F.2d 1572, 1577 (D.C.Cir.1990), and that "the gun facilitate[d] the predicate offense in some way," United States v. Jefferson, 974 F.2d 201, 205 (D.C.Cir.1992). In order to assess whether the government has made the required showing, we have developed an open-ended test that takes account of numerous factors arguably relevant to whether a gun was used in relation to a drug trafficking offense. See, e.g., United States v. Derr, 990 F.2d 1330, 1338 (D.C.Cir.1993); United States v. Morris, 977 F.2d 617, 621-22 (D.C.Cir.1992). Applying this test, divided panels of the court affirmed Bailey's conviction, see United States v. Bailey, 995 F.2d 1113 (D.C.Cir.1993), and reversed Robinson's conviction, see United States v. Robinson, 997 F.2d 884 (D.C.Cir.1993).

Because this complex, open-ended test has produced widely divergent results and because we believe that it intrudes the court into the province of the jury, we now replace it with a test that looks to two factors only: the proximity of the gun to the drugs involved in the underlying offense, and the accessibility of the gun to the defendant from the place where the drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug proceeds are located. Applying that test, we affirm both convictions.


In each of these cases, possession with the intent to distribute cocaine was the predicate drug offense in connection with which the defendant was charged with using or carrying a firearm in violation of Sec. 924(c)(1). The facts of each case are briefly as follows.

A. United States v. Bailey

In May 1989, Roland Bailey was stopped by two Metropolitan Police officers after they noticed that the car he was driving had no front license plate and no inspection sticker. When Bailey failed to produce a driver's license, the officers ordered him out of the car. Before Bailey exited the car, the officers saw him push something between the seat and the front console. Upon searching the passenger compartment of the car they discovered one round of ammunition and 27 small plastic bags containing a total of 30 grams of cocaine. The officers then placed Bailey under arrest; the ensuing search of the trunk of his car turned up a loaded 9-mm. pistol and $3,216 in cash.

Bailey was charged with one drug offense and one other firearms offense in addition to using or carrying a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c)(1). At trial, Detective Charles DiDomenico, a narcotics expert, testified that weapons such as Bailey's are frequently carried by drug dealers "not only to protect themselves, but [also] to protect their assets, drugs and money." Bailey was convicted by the jury on all charges and was sentenced by the court to two concurrent 51-month sentences of imprisonment on the drug and weapon charges not at issue here, and to a consecutive 60-month term of imprisonment on the Sec. 924(c)(1) conviction.

B. United States v. Robinson

In June 1991, an undercover officer of the Metropolitan Police Department approached Veloria Robinson, the sister of appellant Candisha Robinson, and told her that he wanted to buy crack cocaine. Veloria then took him to an apartment in the northeast quadrant of the city. Candisha opened the door; Veloria told her that the officer wanted something. When Candisha asked what he wanted, he replied that he wanted a "twenty." He then entered the apartment and the Robinson sisters went into the bedroom. He saw Candisha hand Veloria a rock of crack cocaine, which Veloria then sold to him. The next evening, the officer made another controlled buy at the same apartment, this time from a man who claimed that he also lived there.

Shortly after the second controlled buy, a search warrant was executed at the apartment. Inside a locked trunk in the bedroom closet the police found a .22-caliber Derringer, appellant Robinson's 1990 tax return, a letter from her employer, 10.88 grams of crack cocaine, and the marked $20 bill from the first controlled buy. They also found a quantity of plastic baggies in the bedroom.

At trial, Detective David Stroud, a narcotics expert, testified that the Derringer was a "second gun"--that is, a type of gun that a drug dealer might hide on his person for use until he could get to his "real gun." Stroud also testified that drug dealers generally use guns to protect themselves from other drug dealers, the police, and their own employees.

Robinson was convicted by a jury on five separate drug counts as well as on the Sec. 924(c)(1) charge. Including the 60-month term of imprisonment for violating Sec. 924(c)(1), she was sentenced to 157 months of imprisonment, four years of supervised release, and a special assessment of $300.

C. The Appeals in Bailey and Robinson

Each defendant appealed his or her Sec. 924(c)(1) conviction on the ground that the Government had failed to adduce sufficient evidence at trial that he or she had "used" or "carried" a firearm in relation to a drug offense. Different panels affirmed Bailey's conviction and reversed Robinson's, in each case over a dissent. Bailey and the government respectively suggested rehearing in banc. In order to resolve the apparent inconsistencies in our various decisions applying Sec. 924(c), we consolidated the two cases and reheard them in banc.


Section 924(c)(1) states that:

Whoever, during and in relation to any ... drug trafficking crime ... uses or carries a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment for such ... drug trafficking crime, be sentenced to imprisonment for five years.

By requiring that the use of the firearm be "in relation to" a drug trafficking offense, the Congress made it clear that it did not intend to criminalize the mere possession of a firearm by someone who commits a drug offense. "[T]he firearm must have some purpose or effect with respect to the drug trafficking crime; its presence or involvement cannot be the result of accident or coincidence." Smith v. United States, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 113 S.Ct. 2050, 2058-59, 124 L.Ed.2d 138 (1993). At the same time, it is clear that a firearm need not actually be brandished in order to be used or carried in connection with a drug trafficking offense. United States v. Evans, 888 F.2d 891, 896 (D.C.Cir.1989). As Justice (then Judge) Kennedy wrote for the Ninth Circuit in the seminal opinion on Sec. 924(c)(1):

If the firearm is within the possession or control of a person who commits an underlying crime as defined by the statute, and the circumstances of the case show that the firearm facilitated or had a role in the crime, such as emboldening an actor who had the opportunity or ability to display or discharge the weapon to protect himself or intimidate others, whether or not such display or discharge occurred, then there is a violation of [the statute].

United States v. Stewart, 779 F.2d 538, 540 (9th Cir.1985) (internal citations omitted).

A. Section 924(c)(1) to Date

In an effort to distinguish between mere possession of and the use or carrying of a gun in connection with a drug trafficking crime, we held early on that more than just evidence of proximity was required to establish "that the gun supported the possession crime." United States v. Bruce, 939 F.2d 1053, 1055 (D.C.Cir.1991). By the next year, we were able to state that "a number of factors" may be relevant in any particular case: "courts have identified and will [continue to] identify" such factors. United States v. Morris, 977 F.2d 617, 621 (D.C.Cir.1992). Just two years later Judge Wald summarized the development of our case law this way:

[W]e have enumerated a nonexclusive set of factors to weigh in making that [distinction]. Among other things, we look to whether a gun is accessible to the defendant, whether it is located in proximity to the drugs (which may cut either way depending on the facts of a particular case), whether it is loaded, what type of weapon it is, and, finally, whether there is expert testimony to bolster the government's particular theory of "use."

Derr, 990 F.2d at 1338 (citing Morris, 977 F.2d at 621-22). Thus, in each case in which a defendant challenges the sufficiency...

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