The court limits the definition of “violent felony” in federal gun punishment
June 10, 2021
On Thursday, the Supreme Court was torn apart, narrowing the scope of a key phrase in the Armed Professional Criminal Law. ruling Crimes involving recklessness are not counted as “violent felonies” to trigger critical sentencing enhancements.
Judge Elena Kagan announced the court’s decision and wrote an opinion, which was also joined by Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch. Justice Clarence Thomas did not join Kagan’s opinion, but agreed with the result. This means that the five judges rejected the federal government’s broader interpretation of the term “violent felony” and handed the victory to the criminal defendant who argued that the increased sentencing did not apply to his conduct.
case, Boden v. United States, Involving a provision of ACCA The minimum sentence is 15 years If the person has been convicted 3 or more times for a “violent felony,” the person is convicted as a felony with a gun. The term “violent felony” is defined in the relevant part as any felony that “uses, attempts to use, or threatens to use force against another person as its element”.
Charles Borden Jr. pleaded guilty to a felony charge, and the government seeks to increase the sentence under ACCA. Boden argued that the enhancement did not apply because one of the three previous crimes on which the government relied was a conviction for reckless and serious assault under Tennessee law. As the name suggests, this kind of crime may stem from reckless behavior-compared with intentional or intentional harm, this legal standard is less culpable. Boden believes that only intentional or informed behavior can meet ACCA’s definition of “violent felony”. He said that mere recklessness is unqualified.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagrees with Borden and rule Crimes involving recklessness are considered “violent felonies” and will trigger ACCA’s increased sentencing. The Supreme Court overturned this decision on Thursday.
Kagan’s opinion of the majority of the four judges focused on the term “person who opposes others” in the ACCA definition. She concluded that this language only contained purposeful or knowing crimes, not reckless crimes.
“The term’against others’ when modifying’use of force’ requires the perpetrator to direct his actions towards or against another person. Reckless behavior is not aimed at that prescribed way,” Kagan wrote.
Thomas reluctantly agreed to the result. He agrees with Kagan’s view that the conviction of Boden for reckless assault in Tennessee does not count as a crime that “uses, attempts to use, or threatens to use force against others”. But his reasoning is different. Thomas did not rely on the word “against others,” but instead focused on the word “use of force.” Thomas said that this sentence is limited to intentional acts intended to cause harm.
Thomas went on to say that, in his view, the separate clause of ACCA’s definition of “violent felony” should reflect Boden’s conviction for reckless assault. This clause—the so-called remaining clause of the definition—includes any felony “involving conduct that poses a risk of serious potential bodily harm to another person”.But six years ago Johnson v. United States, The Supreme Court ruled that the remaining clauses are ambiguous and unconstitutional, so they cannot be enforced.With his consent, Thomas called on the court to overturn Johnson.
Kavanaugh’s 38-page objection (longer than Kagan’s majority opinion and Thomas’ consent combined) accused Kagan of painfully interpreting the term “persons against others” in order to limit the scope of the law. Kavanaugh wrote: “The court’s decision overrides Congress’s judgment on the danger posed by violent felons who illegally own guns and threaten further violence.”
Check back soon for an in-depth analysis of opinions.