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June 23, 2016

Another ACCA win for federal defendants in Mathis

The Supreme Court this morning handed down its last sentencing case this Term, and Mathis v. United States, No. 15–6092 (S. Ct. June 23, 2016) (available here), is another win for federal criminal defendants.  Here is the start of the Mathis opinion for the Court authored by Justice Kagan:

The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA or Act), 18 U. S. C. §924(e), imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence on certain federal defendants who have three prior convictions for a “violent felony,” including “burglary, arson, or extortion.”  To determine whether a past conviction is for one of those offenses, courts compare the elements of the crime of conviction with the elements of the “generic” version of the listed offense — i.e., the offense as commonly understood.  For more than 25 years, our decisions have held that the prior crime qualifies as an ACCA predicate if, but only if, its elements are the same as, or narrower than, those of the generic offense. The question in this case is whether ACCA makes an exception to that rule when a defendant is convicted under a statute that lists multiple, alternative means of satisfying one (or more) of its elements. We decline to find such an exception.

Justice Kennedy issued a concurring opinion, and so did Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, issued a dissenting opinion. And Justice Alito issued his own dissenting opinion.

June 23, 2016 at 10:36 AM | Permalink


Range of concurrences/dissents. Alito's is really a must read.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 23, 2016 10:56:09 AM

How hypocritical is it of Justice Kennedy to criticize Taylor (and its application since 1990) given that he joined in Justice Blackmun's opinion for the court adopting the categorical approach?

Posted by: Da Man | Jun 23, 2016 11:45:54 AM

Mathis is a very interesting read, with a lot of things to ponder when it comes to the "elements versus means" distinction. And Thomas concurring has replaced Scalia as the staunchest advocate for Apprendi. Kennedy continues his dislike of Apprendi.

The majority says when there are alternative elements, rather than alternative means of commission, for a crime, it may not be used for ACCA purposes.

I plan to immediately start referring to Mathis in a series of cases I am litigating concerning the "Felonious Fleeing to Elude Arrest " In NC Flee to Elude is a misdemeanor, unless there are two of eight possible "aggravating factors" present. The jury has to decide there are two, but don't have to all agree which two.

I have been arguing for years that such procedure violates the unanimity requirement of the NC Const because under Apprendi the two ags increasing misdemeanor Flee to Elude to a felony are elements.

I look forward to what you have to say about Mathis

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jun 23, 2016 12:07:14 PM

I am the brother of a man sentenced to 27 years under the ACCA and he asked me to look this particular case up, as it may give him some relief if this decision was to become retroactive for others similarly sentenced under the act.
I will be sending him the information you have posted and hope that you can add me to an email list for any future developments concerning this particular case and others that this may affect.
Thank you, sincerely, Brad Goodsky.

Posted by: Bradley Goodsky | Jun 27, 2016 2:02:26 PM

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