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April 23, 2018

SCOTUS grants cert on yet another set of ACCA cases, this time to explore when burglary qualifies as "burglary"

Though I am always excited when the Supreme Court takes up sentencing issues, I must admit growing somewhat annoyed that issues related to the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act continued to be the focal point of so much SCOTUS activity. That patterns continues today via this new SCOTUS order list in which cert was granted in these two cases (which were consolidated for one hour of argument):

United States v. Stitt, 17-765 (from the Sixth Circuit)

Issue: Whether burglary of a nonpermanent or mobile structure that is adapted or used for overnight accommodation can qualify as “burglary” under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

United States v. Sims, 17-766 (from the Eighth Circuit)

Issue: Whether burglary of a nonpermanent or mobile structure that is adapted or used for overnight accommodation can qualify as “burglary” under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

Because the government was seeking cert on these cases after losing in big Circuit rulings and because there is a split in the circuits, I am not at all surprised by these grants. But I remain troubled that so many other issues that are so very consequential to so many more cases — e.g., the functioning of reasonableness review or the proper application of Graham and Miller — have been unable to get the Justices' attention while nearly a dozen ACCA cases have been taken up by SCOUS in the last decade.

April 23, 2018 at 09:59 AM | Permalink


Thanks for flagging the Court's disinterest in Graham and Miller. There are significant splits of authority on a range of related issues, but the Court does not seem interested. Today saw cert denied in Bostic v. Dunbar despite a range of very high profile amici. QP: In Graham v. Florida, this Court held that
“[t]he Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life
without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did
not commit homicide.” 560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010). The
question presented is whether States can bypass that
rule by sentencing a juvenile offender who did not
commit homicide to a term-of-years sentence under
which he will die in prison, because he will not be
eligible for parole until he is 112 years old.

Cert also denied in a Miller case, Adamcik v. Idaho. QPs: Is finding of irreparable corruption required before imposing JLWOP; Are those with pre-Miller JLWOP sentences entitled to an evidentiary hearing; is JLWOP unconstitutional.

The Court has denied review on a bunch of similar cases.

Posted by: John | Apr 23, 2018 11:45:01 AM

The Bostic rejection strikes me as especially notable, though I believe the defendant still has federal habeas for securing some kind of relief and that may have driven the Court's cert rejection.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 23, 2018 1:22:43 PM

When the Court had only eight justices, can see them avoiding clarifying Graham/Miller, but even then there seemed to be a few justices (representing each side) flagging that some complicated matters were being handwaved for comity. But, now with a full bench, seems like it is something to clarify.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 23, 2018 4:10:37 PM

Doug, I think Bostic was also driven by the fact that it was a summary decision without any opinion at any level. I believe the State's response pointed out the potential state court procedural issues which might have resulted in a state-law procedural bar.

I also think the 112-years cited by advocates in Bostic is questionable. Apparently, that is the conclusion of a case-worker, but that conclusion is still subject to challenge by Bostic (probably once his challenge to his sentence is complete). There are several issues related to his parole eligibility that have never been addressed by a Missouri court -- specifically a statute allowing the Parole Board to recalculate consecutive sentences when they exceed seventy-five years and another provision allowing him release when he has served 50% of his sentence and turns 70 (which has never been interpreted as to how the 50% applies to consecutive sentences). His case-worker is making some assumptions as to how the courts would decide those issues and appears to have made some assumptions that result in the latest possible parole eligibility date. He probably still has a colorable claim even interpreting the statute in favor of an earlier parole eligibility date (which would make him eligible for parole at 70 rather than 128).

In short, Bostic would almost certainly have been DIGed later if it had been granted now. There have been and will continue to be cases that better present the questions that Bostic attempted to raise.

Posted by: tmm | Apr 23, 2018 5:22:51 PM

Why clog up the USSC with burglary counts for Acca if done to a mobile structure. So if you break into campsr, a tent ( flaky here ) mobile home etc, its different than a house with a foundation.

I dont think so. Right thing to do is to fix the Acca, not the predicate offenses.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 23, 2018 6:02:19 PM

Doug, I have several Eighth Amendment as applied challenges headed toward hopeful SCOTUS review. The vast majority of North Carolina appellate and trial level judges are still adhering to the outmoded notion that a sentence within the range allowed by the legislature cannot be unconstitutional.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Apr 23, 2018 9:58:33 PM

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