United States v. Michael Vickers (5th Cir. July 2020)

Sentencing/ACCA/Career Offender – A state conviction for murder can qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA if the respective statute includes an element of physical force. A statute requires an element of physical force if the statute does not distinguish between direct and indirect force.

Michael Vickers was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He was ultimately sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment, based in part on being a career offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) and given credit for time served. Vickers filed a § 2255 motion, arguing that his prior felony convictions for murder, burglary of a habitation, and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance did not qualify as predicate offenses of violent felonies under the ACCA. The district court agreed and re-sentenced Vickers.

The government appealed the district court’s order vacating Vickers’s original conviction and the new sentence.

The Fifth Circuit agreed, holding that a “Texas murder conviction qualifies as a violent felony for purposes of the career offender enhancement.” The Court held that the elements of Vickers’s state murder conviction at the time he was convicted did not distinguish between direct and indirect force. It therefore included physical force and “qualifies as a violent felony for purposes of the career offender enhancement” under the ACCA.

The Court also held that Vickers could not contest the qualifications of his burglary and delivery of controlled substances convictions as predicate offenses because the Court only authorized arguments about the qualification of Vickers’s murder conviction. The Court noted that Vickers had only argued against his murder conviction before the district court.

Appeal from the Northern District of Texas

Opinion by Higginson, joined by Smith and Engelhardt

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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