SCOTUS Looks to Knock Down Yet Another Vague Violent Felony Law

Washington Free Beacon | 4/18/2019 | Charles Fain Lehman
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BY: Charles Fain Lehman

Yet another criminal statute looks set to be knocked down following Wednesday oral arguments in United States v. Davis, the latest case in a line that has created a "royal mess" since 2015.

Davis - Case - Maurice - Lamont - Davis

Davis concerns the case of Maurice Lamont Davis, who was convicted along with a co-conspirator following a string of robberies in 2014. Specifically, Davis was convicted of a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3), which brings with it graduated penalties of between 5 to 10 and 25 years.

This conviction went all the way to SCOTUS because of how the section defines a "crime of violence." Specifically, it is defined as either a) a felony that involves the use, attempted use, or threat of physical force, or b) any felony that "by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense."

Risk - Definition - Whack-a-mole-like - SCOTUS - Cases

This second, "substantial risk," definition has popped up whack-a-mole-like in SCOTUS cases for the past four years, starting with 2015's Johnson v. United States. That case concerned a section of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), a law designed to make it easier to prosecute repeated, violent offenders.

In Johnson, the court decided 8-1 to void a "residual clause" in the ACCA which stipulated that a person could be held to have committed a violent offense if there was a "substantial risk" of the use of the force. To determine if there is such a risk, courts often use what is called the "categorical approach," assessing if in the "ordinary case" a particular offense is likely to lead to violence.

Johnson - ACCA - Clause - Approach - Conviction

Prior to Johnson the ACCA's residual clause could, if interpreted with the categorical approach, lead to conviction for a non-violent robbery that in its "ordinary case" carries a risk...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Washington Free Beacon
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