Wednesday, September 14, 2016

WV priors not predicates under the ACCA

US v. White:  On appeal, White challenged the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence (i.e., a firearm) obtained during a traffic stop that he argued was unconstitutionally prolonged.  The Fourth Circuit upheld the conviction, finding no constitutional problem with the traffic stop that occurred; it vacated White’s sentence, however, because the district court imposed an enhancement under ACCA for state burglary convictions that had been considered “violent felonies” under the residual clause at the time of White’s original sentencing, which Johnson, decided during the pendency of the appeal, later invalidated.

According to the Fourth Circuit, when an intervening decision of the Circuit or the Supreme Court affects precedent relevant to a case pending on direct appeal, an appellant may timely raise a new argument, case theory, or claim based on that decision while his appeal is pending without triggering the abandonment rule.

When White was originally sentenced, his prior state crimes qualified as “violent felonies” under the residual clause, because the crime posed the possibility of “face-to-face confrontation between the burglar and a third party.”  With Johnson, the Supreme Court expressly overruled precedent and invalidated the residual clause, and White sought leave to file a challenge to his sentence under the ACCA.  The question presented was whether White’s prior state convictions still met the definition of ACCA “violent felony” despite the invalidation of the residual clause.

Using the categorical approach, the Fourth Circuit determined that the WV burglary statute “sweeps more broadly than generic burglary.” Since the state convictions would only qualify as  predicates under the ACCA if the state crime elements were the same as or narrower than the ACCA-enumerated generic offense, the prior crimes here did not qualify as predicates.  The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred in enhancing the sentence under the ACCA, and vacated it.

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