The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.
The Supreme Court struck down the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which criminalizes carrying a firearm in connection with a “crime of violence” or drug trafficking crime, as unconstitutionally vague. The decision was based on prior Supreme Court decisions striking down similar provisions defining "crimes of violence" under 18 U.S.C. § 16 and the ACCA.
The Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 922, which criminalizes possession of a firearm by certain groups of individuals (such as felons), has an intent element requiring that the defendant had knowledge of both his possession of a firearm and of his status in a class of individuals prohibited from possessing firearms.
The Supreme Court unanimously held that the defendant’s 2002 Michigan conviction for third-degree home invasion was a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act’s enumerated-offenses clause, as the Michigan offense “substantially corresponded to” or was narrower than generic burglary under the categorical approach from Taylor v. United States.
The Court held that officers’ warrantless two-day seizure of the defendant’s cell phone, based on evidence the defendant had sexually exploited a minor, was not permissible under Terry but was justified by probable cause and exigent circumstances. The Court also held that the sentencing court did not engage in double-counting by enhancing the defendant’s offense level for conduct involving a visual depiction of sexual acts and engaging in a pattern of prohibited sexual activities.
The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s habeas petition under § 2254. The defendant failed to show that the state court’s denial of Atkins claim of ineligibility for the death penalty due to intellectual disability or denial of his Batson claim were contrary to clearly established law or constituted an unreasonable determination of the facts. The Court also held that the requirement in Moore v. Texas that state courts consider prevailing medical standards in adjudicating Atkins claims was not retroactive under Teague.
The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s second § 2255 motion, holding that the defendant’s federal second-degree murder offenses, based on pointing a firearm at boat passengers and throwing them overboard, was a “crime of violence” under § 924(c)’s residual and elements clause.