« SCOTUS blocks Texas execution, but Oklahoma completed second execution of 2011 | Main | "DeLay flunked attitude test?: Harsh penalty could be linked to lack of remorse, some experts say" »

January 11, 2011

Struggling to get psyched for Sykes, another ACCA case before SCOTUS

On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Sykes v. US, yet another case on the docket to resolve a circuit split over what prior crimes trigger the severe mandatory minimum prison terms in the Armed Career Criminal Act.  As this SCOTUSblog page explains, at issue in Sykesis "[w]hether fleeing the police in a car, after being ordered to stop, constitutes a 'violent felony' within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes heightened sentences for such violent felonies."

I wrote a preview of the Sykes case for the American Bar Association’s PREVIEW of U.S. Supreme Court Cases, which can be accessed here.   In that preview, I sought to play up how this latest ACCA case "implicates a number of cross-cutting jurisprudential and policy considerations."  But, somewhat annoyingly, the Justices have not in their recent ACCA work spent much time expounding upon any broader jurisprudential and policy considerations, and the issue in Sykesstrikes me as especially narrow.  Thus, as indicated in the title of this post, I am struggling to get psyched for this SCOTUS sentencing case.  Perhaps readers can use the comments to note reasons why Sykes is worth watching with some excitement or anticipation.

January 11, 2011 at 10:35 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Struggling to get psyched for Sykes, another ACCA case before SCOTUS:


Doug, I can get more "psyched" than you about Sykes because I have a similar case coming up in a couple of weeks, a charge of fleeing to elude arrest with the potential sentence enhanced by the habitual felon act. The Habitual Felon Act is the state counterpart to the ACCA. My argument is based on Graham v Florida's emphatic position that the Eighth amendment contains components of both graduated and proportionate punishment.

I'm trying something new in the case, which is a motion to have a pretrial determination of whether the application of the HFA to my client violates the constitution. If the judge says it does, that resolves the case because my client will have already served his potential max sentence in jail awaiting trial.

You know me well enough to know that I see Apprendi issues lurking everywhere, and I think such a pretrial motion to determine what is the worst sentence my client is facing if he goes to trial implicates Apprendi concerns. I believe there was an unarticulated belief by the Apprendi majority, particularly Justice Ginsburg, that it is fundamentally unfair for a defendant to have to go to trial not knowing ahead of time what his worst possible sentence could be. Before Apprendi a judge could make a determination of a fact that neither side had considered, which increases potential punishment.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jan 11, 2011 11:11:28 PM

More unfortunate, unseemly, lawyer nit picking. Is speeding away from the police against the law? If it is, it gets added to 123, as in 123D. All lawyer complexity and parsing is from Scholasticism, a church based philosophy and method to generate time wasting, worthless fees. The trial is from the disputation method of Scholasticism. The rules of evidence are from that era as well, and most violate some tenet of formal logic, common sense, or critical thinking. The sole validity of this lawyer Medieval garbage and rent seeking is at the point of a gun pointed at the public to suppress any objection to their stealing tax money. Now, lawyers are trying to prohibit even verbal criticism of their elite by law.

Stealing would be forgivable, and overlooked if it didn't involve loosing vicious predators on the public, especially the dark skinned public. Where the lawyer lives, the crime rate is lower than in Japan or Switzerland. The death penalty for any criminal stupid enough to enter a lawyer residential area is at the scene, with no appeal, nor any excessive force litigation. A bunch of police arrive in less than 3 minutes, blasting. Case closed. The complexity parsing and hand wringing are reserved for the predators of dark skinned citizens.

Bruce, what is the race of your client, of his victims? When you loose this ultra-violent, crazed criminal, where will he live? Do you live in the same neighborhood? If you will profit from the black taxpayer, you should be forced to live in their neighborhoods, by statute.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 12, 2011 7:37:28 AM

A little region-centric, but the case might help to clean up some of the mess regarding fleeing and eluding/ACCA jurisprudence in the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit has dealt with four such cases within a four-year time span (Martin, Foreman, LaCasse, and Young)--all oddly regarding Michigan's somewhat anomalous statute. The first two cases were decided before the Supreme Court's James-Begay-Chambers trifecta, the latter two afterwards. Young overruled Foreman based upon intervening precedent (a very well reasoned opinion, and very courageous for a district judge sitting by designation in light of Sutton's angry dissent--describes very well the mess created by Martin and Foreman).

James-Begay-Chambers indicates pretty clearly that you have to look at the general crime as typically committed (not whether it is necessarily dangerous in every instance), but it seems like the Sixth Circuit still is trying to wrap its head around the concept. A finding in the Supreme Court that fleeing and eluding is a violent felony because it generally is dangerous would vindicate the Young majority's actually-workable standard for those cases (which, as I said, I think is pretty faithful to the James-Begay-Chambers framework).

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 12, 2011 10:44:24 AM

Getting psyched about anything the court does in criminal cases these days can't be easy, not even for wonky law profs or timid defense lawyers immersed in the arcane minutia and seemingly meaningless tinkering that routinely occupy the justices' time. Maybe the court's criminal-law work lacks excitement because its rulings seldom stir or surprise or inspire.

More and more it seems the justices are there mostly for cops, agents, prosecutors and former prosecutors (judges and appellate judges). The quaint notion the Constitution protects citizens from abusive government actions has pretty much been debunked.

Nonetheless, Bruce, I sincerely hope you successfully persuade the court that not every vindictive whim, ambitious inclination or creative "novel theory" prosecutors bring to court deserves its unwavering endorsement.

Posted by: John K | Jan 12, 2011 10:48:26 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB