Third SCOTUS Opinion of the term, United States vs Stitt (more interpretation of the Armed Career Criminal Act)

The case is United States v Stitt. The 6th Circuit is reversed 9 to 0 in an opinion by Justice Breyer.

Relatively simple statutory interpretation here and I think the Supreme Court got it correct.

I have quoted the syllabus of the Opinion of the Court below.

(Note to Mods: The following quoted material is in the public domain as a work of the United States Government. Attribution is given to the United States Supreme Court.)

Respondents Victor J. Stitt and Jason Daniel Sims were each convicted in federal court of unlawfully possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(1). The sentencing judge in each case imposed the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term that the Armed Career Criminal Act requires for §922(g)(1) offenders who have at least three previous convictions for certain “violent” or drug-related felonies, §924(e)(1). The Act defines “violent felony” to mean, among other things, “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . that . . . is burglary.” §924(e)(2)(B). Respondents’ prior convictions were for violations of state burglary statutes—a Tennessee statute in Stitt’s case and an Arkansas statute in Sims’ case— that prohibit burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation. In both cases, the District Courts found that the state statutory crimes fell within the scope of the federal Act’s term “burglary.” The relevant Court of Appeals in each case disagreed, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing.

Held:

  1. The term “burglary” in the Armed Career Criminal Act includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation. Pp. 4–8.

(a) In deciding whether an offense qualifies as a violent felony under the Act, the categorical approach first adopted in Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575, requires courts to evaluate a prior state conviction by reference to the elements of the state offense, rather than to the defendant’s behavior on a particular occasion. A prior state conviction does not qualify as generic burglary under the Act where “the elements of [the relevant state statute] are broader than those of generic burglary.” Mathis v. United States, 579 U. S. ___, ___. Taylor, which specifically considered the statutory term “burglary” and defined the elements of generic burglary as “an unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime,” 495 U. S., at 598, governs and determines the outcome here. Pp. 4–5.

(b) The state statutes at issue here fall within the scope of Taylor’s definition of generic burglary. Congress intended that definition to reflect “the generic sense in which the term [was] used in the criminal codes of most States” when the Act was passed. 495 U. S., at 598. And at that time, a majority of state burglary statutes covered vehicles adapted or customarily used for lodging. Congress also viewed burglary as an inherently dangerous crime that “creates the possibility of a violent confrontation” between the offender and an occupant or someone who comes to investigate. Id., at 588. An offender who breaks into a mobile home, an RV, a camping tent, or another structure or vehicle that is adapted or customarily used for lodging creates a similar or greater risk of violent confrontation. Although the risk of violence is diminished if the vehicle is only used for lodging part of the time, the Court finds no reason to believe that Congress intended to make a part-time/full-time distinction. Respondents also argue that the vehicles covered here are analogous to the non typical structures and vehicles that Taylor, Mathis, and other cases described as falling outside the scope of generic burglary, but none of those prior cases presented the question whether generic burglary includes structures or vehicles that are adapted or customarily used for overnight use. Pp. 5–8.

  1. Sims’ case is remanded for further proceedings. His argument that Arkansas’ residential burglary statute is too broad to count as generic burglary because it also covers burglary of “a vehicle . . . [w]here any person lives,” Ark. Code Ann. §5–39–101(1)(A), rests in part upon state law, and the lower courts have not considered it. Those courts remain free to determine whether Sims properly presented that argument and, if so, to decide the merits. Pp. 8–9.

No. 17–765, 860 F. 3d 854, reversed; No. 17–766, 854 F. 3d 1037, vacated and remanded.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

I assume the criminal was trying to argue that burglaries of ‘‘vehicles, RV’s’’ do not count as violent crimes.