Supreme Court hears cases challenging mandatory sentencing provisions

Supreme Court hears cases challenging mandatory sentencing provisions

Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the US Supreme Court [official website] Tuesday to hear oral argument in two cases challenging the mandatory sentencing enhancement provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

Both cases concern the “mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence on any federal firearms offender who previously has been convicted of three ‘violent’ felonies.” The previous provision imposed a 10-year minimum requirement. The court has taken issue with the ACCA’s construction because it does not adequately parse out the requirements for “violent” felonies.

The first case, Stokeling v. US, challenges the 15-year provision for an armed robbery conviction in Florida. Robbery is not mentioned in the statute, so the court is tasked with determining whether the elements of an armed robbery in Florida are enough to satisfy the “violent” felony requirement in the ACCA.

In Florida, only “slight” force or simply carrying a weapon is enough to be convicted of an armed robbery. The petitioner distinguished Florida’s law with other states, saying: “in most states that have armed robbery, aggravated robbery offenses that require using, displaying, threatening a weapon, those offenses would qualify because that’s a threatened use of violent force.” The petitioner argued that because “violent” force is not required for an armed robbery in Florida, a conviction in Florida did not satisfy the “violent” requirement under the ACCA.

The second case, US v. Stitt, asks: “[w]hether burglary of a nonpermanent or mobile structure that is adapted or used for overnight accommodation can qualify as ‘burglary’ under the [ACCA].” Because the ACCA mentions burglary as an offense that can satisfy the violent felony requirement, the court must consider the generic definition of burglary to determine if the respondent’s conduct in a mobile structure constitutes a burglary, even though mobile structures were not typically considered “homes” when the ACCA was enacted.

The court is most concerned with the definition of a “mobile structure” and whether they should decide that a car being used as a home should also be considered a home for the definition of burglary. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was quick to acknowledge the home-like aspect of a mobile home or floating home, both of which require another vehicle to move them. She pointed out that the primary issue was whether a car that someone was living in could be a home within the definition of “burglary.” The difference turns on a structure “used” as a home rather than “adapted” as a home.