Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Escape Not Per Se "Violent Felony" Under ACCA

US v. Bethea: Bethea pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 180 months in prison under the ACCA. The third qualifying predicate offense was Bethea's prior conviction in South Carolina for escape, which the district court concluded was a "violent felony" under the ACCA.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit answered two questions: (1) was the South Carolina crime of escape categorically a "violent felony"?; and (2) if not, does Bethea's conviction specifically "involve[] the type of violent conduct contemplated by the ACCA"?. The answer, to both questions, was "no."

As to the first question, the court applied the Supreme Court's recent decision in Chambers v. US and concluded that the South Carolina escape statute, which that state's supreme court has given a "broad scope," encompasses both conduct that might meet the definition of violent felony (i.e., escape from a secure facility) as well as conduct that would not (i.e., failure to report at the end of a furlough) and therefore a violation of the statute was not, per se, a violent felony.

As to the second question, the only documents available to determine whether Bethea's conviction was based on conduct that would constitute a violent felony were inconclusive, simply stating that he "escaped." Because of the scope of the South Carolina statute, the court could not assume that "escape" had its common meaning, an unlawful departure from secure custody.

The court vacated Bethea's sentence and remanded the case for him to be resentenced without the ACCA enhancement.

Congrats to the FPD office in South Carolina on the win!

No comments: