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Bousley v. United States

Case Name
Bousley v. United States
523 U.S. 614
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
William Rehnquist
Judge(s) - Majority
William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Judge(s) - Concur
John Paul Stevens (in part)
Judge(s) - Dissent
Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas; John Paul Stevens (in part)
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
8th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant was charged with and pleaded guilty to using a firearm in violation of § 924. However, five years later, the Supreme Court held that the “use” prong of the statute required “active employment”—a higher showing than the definition of the term under which defendant was charged. Defendant challenged his guilty plea as involuntary because he was misinformed about the essential elements of his crime. Criminal defendants must receive real notice of the true nature of the crime for their plea to be intelligent. However, there are still strong procedural protections for when a plea may be attacked on collateral review. Defendant may challenge his plea by showing actual innocence. This means he must show that he did not “use” a firearm as defined in Bailey v. United States. This case made Bailey retroactive. If the Defendant can make this showing, he will then be able to have his claim of an unintelligent plea considered on the merits. Note, Bailey has subsequently been overturned by statute.

Key Quote

“Accordingly, petitioner need demonstrate no more than that he did not ‘use’ a firearm as that term is defined in Bailey. If, on remand, petitioner can make this showing, he will then be entitled to have his defaulted claim of an unintelligent plea considered on its merits.” p.624