New York Appellate Lawyer

48 Wall Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10005

Federal Criminal Appeals Throughout The United States and
New York State Criminal Appeals.

Located at 48 Wall Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY! 1-800-APPEALS (277-3257)

Residual Clause Of The Armed Career Criminal Act And Due Process


Samuel James Johnson v. United States

576 U.S._____ (2015)

United States Supreme Court

Decided June 26, 2015

Guardian_of_Law_by_James_Earle_Fraser,_US_Supreme_Court

Blog by: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

 

United States Supreme Court: Imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 1984 violates the Fifth Amendment of the Federal Constitutions guarantee of due process and accordingly does not survive the Federal Constitutions prohibition of vague criminal laws. Under conventional principles of interpretation, the offense of unlawfully possessing a short-barrelled shotgun does not constitute a violent felony under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 1984.

Issues:?1) Whether imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 1984 violates the Federal Constitutions guarantee of due process right?

2) Whether Minnesotas offense of possessing a short-barrelled shotgun constitute a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act 1984?

Summary: Under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA), a person is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm faces more severe punishment if he has three or more previous convictions for a violent felony. The term violent felony includes any felony that involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another [18 U. S. C. 924(e) (2)(B)]. The petitioner after his arrest by FBI, pleaded guilty to being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm (AK-47 Rifle) and therefore the United States sought an enhanced sentence (increased prison term) for the petitioner under ACCA, with his three prior convictions for alleged violent felonies [including unlawful possession of a short barrelled shotgun under Minn. Stat. 609.67 (2006)]. The District Court agreed and imposed a 15-year sentence under ACCA. The Eighth Circuit court affirmed. Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment of the Eighth Circuit Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court of the United States granted Certiorari whether Minnesotas offence of unlawful possession of a short-barrelled shotgun ranks as a violent felony under the residual clause and also requested the parties to reargue the compatibility of the residual clause in ACCA with Federal Constitutions prohibition of vague criminal laws.

Oblique_facade_3,_US_Supreme_CourtHoldings: 1) Supreme Court of the United States held that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 1984 violates the Federal Constitutions guarantee of due process and accordingly does not survive the Federal Constitutions prohibition of vague criminal laws.

2) Supreme Court of the United States also held that Minnesotas offense of unlawful possession of a short-barrelled shotgun does not rank as a violent felony under the residual clause of ACCA.

Facts: The petitioner was a felon with a long criminal record. In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to monitor him because of his involvement in a white-supremacist organization that FBI suspected was planning to commit acts of terrorism. During the investigation, the petitioner disclosed to the undercover FBI agents that the petitioner had manufactured explosives and that he planned to attack the Mexican consulate in Minnesota, progressive bookstores, and liberals. The petitioner showed the undercover agents his AK?47 rifle, several semiautomatic firearms, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition After his eventual arrest, the petitioner pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 922(g) of ACCA.

The United States requested an enhanced sentence for the petitioner under ACCA because the petitioners three previous offenses including unlawful possession of a short-barrelled shotgun, Minn. Stat. 609.67 (2006) which states qualified as violent felonies.

The District Court agreed and sentenced Johnson to a 15-year prison term under the Act. The Eighth Circuit Court affirmed and the Supreme Court of the United Stated granted Certiorari reversing Eighth Circuit Courts judgement. .

Legal Analyses: The Supreme Court of the United States led by Justice Scalia, noted that the Fifth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution are violated by the United States by arbitrary enforcement of vague criminal laws which fail to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes [Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U, S. 352 (1983)]. Further, the Supreme Court noted that in order to rank an offence under ACCA as a violent felony, the courts need to use a categorical approach [Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575 (1990)]. The Supreme Court also noted that in order to cover a crime under the residual clause of ACCA, a court needs to determine whether the accuseds conduct ordinarily presents a serious potential risk of physical injury [James v. United States, 550 U. S. 192 (2007)]. The Supreme Court concluded that absence of such determination, invites arbitrary enforcement by court leading to infringement of right to due process of law.

The Supreme Court found that the residual clause was unconstitutuionally vague for two reasons: First, the clause is unclear as to how to estimate the risk posed by a crime because it does not require the judge to consider real-world facts of statutory elements; Second, the clause is unclear about how much risk is required to qualify a crime as a violent felony. The resudual clause forces courts to interpret serious potential risk in light o fthe four enumerated crimes ? burglary, arson, extonrtionand crimes involving the use of explosives. The Court found that these crimes are far from clear in respect to the degree fo risk each poses. Ultimately, the Court stated that the residueal clause produces more unpredictaibility and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.

**********************************************************************************

 

 

 


Related Articles