United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Firearms — furtherance of drug conspiracy
Trading guns for drugs constitutes knowingly possessing firearms in furtherance of drug distribution under 18 U.S.C. 924(c).
“We need not resolve the question of whether ¶ 3 contains a conclusive presumption, because, even if this instruction were deemed unconstitutional, the use of this potentially erroneous instruction would constitute harmless error under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967). In assessing a claim of constitutional error, we are mindful that ‘an otherwise valid conviction should not be set aside if the reviewing court may confidently say, on the whole record, that the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 681 (1986). Constitutionally erroneous jury instructions are harmless where ‘the predicate facts are so closely related to the ultimate fact to be presumed that no rational jury could find those facts without also finding that ultimate fact.’ United States v. Parmelee, 42 F.3d 387, 393 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Carella, 491 U.S. at 271 (per curiam) (Scalia, J., concurring)). ‘In many cases, the predicate facts conclusively establish [the element of the charge], so that no rational jury could find that the defendant committed [the former] . . . but did not [commit the latter].’ Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580-81 (1986). In these cases, ‘the erroneous instruction is simply superfluous.’ Id. at 581. Dickerson’s case fits this mold precisely. We held in Doody that a guns-for-drugs exchange constitutes possession in furtherance for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). 600 F.3d at 755. Importantly, we did not state that a district court was within its discretion in making such a finding, or that such a finding does not rise to the level of reversible error. Instead, we stated plainly that a guns-for-drugs exchange is possession in furtherance. Id. In other words, the predicate fact that a defendant traded drugs for guns conclusively establishes that the possession in furtherance prong of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) is met. Thus, even if ¶ 3 could be characterized as involving a conclusive presumption, this possibly flawed wording merely would render the instruction superfluous. See Rose, 478 U.S. at 581.”
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, McCuskey, J., Tinder, J.