[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] in two criminal procedure cases Wednesday. In Abuelhawa v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF] the Court heard arguments on whether a defendant who used a cellphone for the misdemeanor purchase of cocaine can be charged with a felony for using a "communication facility" to facilitate the distribution of an illegal drug under 21 USC § 843(b) [text]. The defendant argues that the provision should only apply to distributors of the drugs and not who purchase them for personal use. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed, ruling [opinion, PDF] that the defendant could be charged with a felony. At oral argument, counsel for the defendant argued:
A person who purchases a small quantity of drugs for his own personal use commits a misdemeanor, not a felony. The language of section 843(b) does not transform that person into a felon if he uses a phone in obtaining his drugs, rather than doing so strictly face to face.
Counsel for the government argued:
Section 843(b) prohibits the use of a communication facility in causing or facilitating the commission of any act constituting a felony under the Controlled Substances Act. The court of appeals correctly held that the statute is violated when a person uses a communication facility such as a telephone to purchase controlled substances unlawfully. A call to order drugs both causes and facilitates a felony distribution of drugs.
In Dean v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the accidental discharge of a firearm during the commission of a felony crime subjects a defendant to a 10-year minimum sentence for the crime. Under 18 USC 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) [text], the increased sentence attaches when a firearm is discharged, but the defendant argued that there must also be some showing that the discharge was intentional. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the defendant should be subjected to the 10-year minimum sentence requirement.