Supreme Court split over definition of “Violent Felony”

Posted on: June 10th, 2011  |  No Comments

As reported yesterday by the Washington Post, the Supreme Court of the United States decided on the same day the case of Sykes v. United States. Sykes pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. At the time of his plea, Sykes had been convicted on previous occasions of multiple felonies, three of which were classified as “violent felonies.” Accordingly, Sykes was subjected to a 15 year minimum mandatory under the Armed Criminal Career Act (ACCA). Sykes contested that his Indiana state-law conviction for vehicle flight from a law enforcement officer did not constitute a violent felony for purposes of the ACCA. His argument was rejected by the Seventh Circuit and, ultimately, by a divided Supreme Court. Sykes’ sentence was affirmed 6-3, with a dissent filed by Justice Scalia, and a separate dissent filed by Justice Kagan, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

The Post noted that this was the fourth case in as many years which required the high court to examine the vague term “violent felony.”

Post reporter Robert Barnes summarized:

Kennedy said vehicle flight can be compared to other crimes on the list Congress provided. “When a perpetrator defies a law enforcement command by fleeing in a car, the determination to elude capture makes a lack of concern for the safety of property and persons of pedestrians and other drivers an inherent part of the offense,” he said.

Thomas agreed, although he thought the majority used the wrong test in making its decision.

Kagan and Ginsburg noted that Sykes was convicted under the least severe of Indiana’s vehicle-flight offenses. It “lacks any element relating to threat of physical injury,” Kagan wrote.

Scalia washed his hands of the court’s “tutti-frutti” decision and said it should declare the residual clause unconstitutional instead of continually attempting to define it.

Read the entire article at the Washington Post »

Read the Supreme Court’s decision »

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