Thursday, January 08, 2009

Begay Trumps James

US v. Roseboro: Remember US v. James from 2003, in which the Fourth concluded that a conviction in South Carolina for "failing to stop for a blue light" was a "violent felony" under the ACCA? In this case, the court jettisons James in the wake of the Supreme Court's Begay decision and comes to the opposite conclusion. Roseboro had three prior convictions under the South Carolina statute, which (under James) made him an Armed Career Criminal and increased his Guideline range from 84 to 105 months up to 262 to 327 months.

Examining Begay, the Fourth Circuit concluded that it was "markedly different" from the analysis in James and the court was bound to apply the Supreme Court's analysis. Doing so, the court noted that the South Carolina statute allows convictions both for intentional and unintentional violations of the statute and therefore does not involve the "purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct" which triggers "violent felony" status. Noting that other circuits had come to the same conclusion, the court concluded that "when a statute does not require deliberate or purposeful conduct, a conviction under such a statute will not be considered a violent felony . . .."

Judge Niemeyer dissented, on two grounds. First, he argued that Begay did not, in fact, overrule James, due to the differences between the state statutes at issue in the two cases. Second, he argued that, even applying the Begay analysis, the South Carolina offense is still a violent felony for ACCA purposes.

Congrats to the Federal Defenders of Western NC for the win!

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