Monday, January 24, 2011

Involuntary Manslaughter Not "Crime of Violence"

US v. Peterson: Peterson was convicted on multiple drug and gun counts. He was sentenced as a career offender, a status based partly on his 2001 conviction in North Carolina for involuntary manslaughter, arising from "an incident in which Peterson accidentally shot his close friend . . . while the two were playing with what they believed (mistakenly) was an unloaded pistol." Peterson objected to the career offender classification, arguing that the involuntary manslaughter conviction was not a "crime of violence" as defined by the Guidelines. The district court disagreed and sentenced him to 420 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit agreed with Peterson and vacated his sentence. The court first concluded that generic "manslaughter" - which is specifically included in the definition of crime of violence - requires either that the defendant acted "recklessly" or "intentionally if under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance." The North Carolina offense of involuntary manslaughter did not fit within that definition because it's required mental state - "thoughtless disregard" - is a lesser requirement than recklessness, as defined by the Model Penal Code. Peterson's conviction, therefore, was not explicitly included in the definition of crime of violence. The court then turned to the issue of whether his conviction was one that "presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" under the crime of violence definition's "otherwise" clause, concluding that it was not because the North Carolina statute covered negligent and unintentional conduct.

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