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 the defendant's consent for an undercover officer to enter his house was not tainted by "police deception." While the officer did not identify himself as law enforcement to the defendant when he asked to talk to the defendant's wife and to step inside "to get out of the cold," the officer did not take any affirmative acts to conceal his identity from the defendant. The Court also held that Wooden’s burglary convictions under Georgia law qualified as crimes of violence under the ACCA.
The Court affirmed the denial of the defendant's motion to suppress, holding that fingerprints obtained as a result of an unlawful arrest should not be excluded under the routine booking exception to the Fourth Amendment.
Despite the significant amount of discretion granted to sentencing courts, the Court held that the district court’s downward variance of 80% from a Guidelines range of 85 years in prison to 17 years in prison was substantively unreasonable based on the Court of Appeals finding that the district court improperly second-guessed the defendant’s state of mind, created an unwarranted disparity between the defendants, and placed too much weight on mitigating factors.