Leah Litman, associate professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, shares some insight into an upcoming case: United States vs. Davis. She explains that this case is one of several that have arisen after the 2015 decision of Johnson vs. United States in which the language used in the residual clause, particularly in regards to the definition of “violent crime,” of the Armed Career Criminal’s Act was questioned due to potentially unconstitutional vagueness.
Litman provides a comprehensive look at preceding cases as well as the circumstances surrounding the case in question.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear argument in United States v. Davis. Davis is the latest in a string of cases stemming from Johnson v. United States, the 2015 decision invalidating the Armed Career Criminal Act’s residual clause (Section 924(e)(2)) as unconstitutionally void for vagueness. ACCA imposes additional punishment on certain individuals convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. That crime typically carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. ACCA imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment on persons with multiple prior convictions for “violent felonies.” And the now-defunct residual clause defined a violent felony as an offense that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”
Two years after Johnson, Beckles v. United States upheld a provision in the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that was identical to ACCA’s residual clause. And last term, Sessions v. Dimaya invalidated a provision worded similarly to ACCA’s residual clause — Section 16(b), the federal criminal code’s general definition of “crime of violence.” Section 16(b) defined a crime of violence as “any other offense that is a felony and 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.”
That brings us to Davis. Davis involves a provision, Section 924(c)(3)(B), that is identical to Section 16(b). Section 924(c) creates a graduating set of penalties for using a firearm “during and in relation to any crime of violence.” (The penalties are “graduating” in that a first conviction under 924(c) carries a mandatory minimum of 5-10 years, and a second or subsequent conviction carries a mandatory minimum of 25 years. Those penalties can run consecutively and can also be imposed simultaneously for multiple 924(c) offenses that are committed in the same course of conduct, a practice referred to as “stacking.” The recently enacted First Step Act ensures that first-time offenders are no longer subject to “stacked” 924(c) charges that trigger the 25-year mandatory minimum.)
Section 924(c)(3) defines a crime of violence as a “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.” That is the exact same language the Supreme Court declared void for vagueness in Dimaya. So what is left for the court to decide in Davis?
Read the rest here.
Jorge J. Perez is an attorney in South Florida. He is a self-professed history buff.