On June 18, 2007, Congressman Walter Jones addressed the U.S. House of Representatives about the Ramos and Compean case. He explained the issues raised in the amicus brief we recently filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Congressman Jones explained how the agents were convicted of a crime which Congress never enacted into law. The Congressman has asked the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the matter and to ensure that justice be done.
Today we filed a Brief Amicus Curiae in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit supporting the appeal of Border Patrol Agents Ramos and Compean. Counts four and five of the indictment charge the two with “Discharge of a Firearm in Relation to a Crime of Violence,” under 18 U.S.C. section 924(c), which the Supreme Court has ruled is only a sentencing factor, not one of the three elements — “using,” “carrying,” or “possessing” a firearm. See Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002).
On behalf of Gun Owners Foundation and the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, we filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Watson v. United States. This brief asks the Court to overturn the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and to re-establish the common law rule of strict construction of criminal statutes. In this case, an undercover agent sought to buy drugs from Watson, and offered a firearm as part of the purchase price. The federal government indicted Watson for not only the drug sale, but also for the “use” of a firearm in connection with a federal drug trafficking crime, which would greatly increase the sentence if convicted. Clearly, in the normal sense of the word, receiving a gun is not “using” a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime, but the Fifth Circuit interpreted the word “use” broadly to encompass receipt. Had the rule of strict construction been applied to this case, and “use” interpreted in its normal sense, Mr. Watson would not be faced with a mandatory additional minimum prison sentence of five years under 18 U.S.C. section 924(c). Our amicus brief also asks the Court to reject the modern “rule of lenity” that has proved to be no substitute for strict construction. Strict construction of federal criminal law is necessary to preserve constitutional separation of powers, as well as principles of federalism. Our amicus brief illustrates how allowing police and prosecutors to go beyond the words of the statute to define a crime opens up opportunities for abuse.