Armed Career Criminal Act: Defining Violent Felonies Under The United States Sentencing Guidelines – Failure To Report
Supreme Court of the United States
Deondery CHAMBERS, Petitioner.
129 S. Ct. 687
Decided Jan. 13, 2009.
Whether the offense of “Failure to report” falls within the definition of “violent felony” within the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), for the purpose of imposing the higher than standard minimum prison sentence of 15 years.
Held that the offense of “failure to report” is not a “violent felony” within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act, as it did not involve the specified prerequisites of: “use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force”, or involve conduct which presented “a serious potential risk of physical injury to another”.
Chambers pleaded guilty to the charge of being a felon unlawfully in possession of a firearm, contrary to §922(g). The Government requested that the District Court sentence Chambers according to the guidelines within the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes a mandatory 15-year minimum prison term for an offender with three prior convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense”.
Chambers accepted that two of his prior convictions, a 1998 conviction for robbery and aggravated battery, and a 1999 drug conviction met the definition required by the ACCA. However he disputed that his third previous conviction met the required criteria.
As a result of his 1998 crime chambers was sentenced to report to a local prison for 11-weeks of incarceration. He failed to report on four occasions and was subsequently convicted of the crime of “failing to report to a penal institution”.
The District Court considered this as a form of the Illinois state offense of “escape from a penal institution”, and held that the crime qualified as a violent felony under the ACCA guidelines.
A felon convicted for possession of a firearm faces an ordinary prison sentence of upto 10 years for an ordinary offense under §924(a)(2). The Armed Career Criminal Act §924(c)(1) imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years for an offender with three prior convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense.”
The ACCA defines “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that:
(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves the use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. §924(c)(2)(B)
The element of the ACCA at issue in this case is clause (ii).
The Illinois statute containing the offense of failure to report, for which Chambers was convicted, contains a number of different behaviours within one statutory section. The Supreme Court concluded that although “failure to report to a penal institution” was in the same section of the statute as “escape from a penal institution”, the two offenses differed significantly. The offense of escape likely involves more aggressive behaviour by the offender, than failure to report would. The two behaviours are also given different felony classes in the statute itself, in-line with their differing seriousness. Therefore the court concluded that the District Courts blanket use of classifying Chamber’s offense as “escape from a penal institution” was incorrect.
The offense of “failure to report to a penal institution” satisfies the definition by the ACCA of a violent felony in so much as it is a “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year”, however it does not meet the definition contained within the subsequent two clauses. It neither involves physical force, or conduct which presents a serious risk of injury to another.
Failure to report, is a crime of inaction rather than the purposeful aggressive conduct associated with the activities specified within the ACCA.
This viewpoint is proven by the statistics contained within a quoted United States Sentencing Commission report. This shows that for every federal case in 2006/2007 for which the sentencing court applied the sentencing guideline for “Escape, instigating or assisting escape”, and of which 160 involved “failure to report”, none of these cases involved violence either during the offense itself or during the offender’s eventual arrest.
In conclusion therefore, the crime of “failure to report” does not fall within the ACCA definition of a “violent felony” § 924(c)(2)(B)(ii).
The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion given by the Court.