Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NC Indecent Liberties Conviction Can Trigger ACCA

US v. Vann: Vann pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. At the time, he had three prior North Carolina convictions for taking indecent liberties with a child. At sentencing, he objected to the use of those convictions as predicates under Armed Career Criminal Act, arguing that in light of Begay and subsequent Fourth Circuit law, they were not "violent felonies" for ACCA purposes. The district court disagreed and sentenced Vann to a term of 180 months in prison, the minimum required under the ACCA.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, 2-1. Vann argued that a pre-Begay Fourth Circuit case holding that convictions like his were "crimes of violence" under the Guidelines had been abrogated by Begay and that the Fourth Circuit's decision that Virginia's "carnal knowledge without the use of force" statute was not a violent felony post-Begay required the same conclusion with regards to his prior convictions. The court disagreed, noting that the NC statute at issue could be violated in two ways, one of which "requires physical acts against the body of a child," while the other does not. After first determining that Vann committed the offense which required a physical act against the body of a child, the court then concluded that such an offense was a violent felony under the ACCA. It noted the difference between the NC and Virginia offenses was that the later was committed "without the use of force."

Judge King dissented, arguing that the majority was incorrect in concluding that the NC statute set forth two different offenses, that Vann committed one that necessarily required physical acts against a child, and that the offense was a violent felony.

Divided Court Strikes Down Forced Medication Order

US v. White: White was charged with conspiracy, credit card fraud, and identity theft. She suffers from Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type. After a motion was filed to determine her competency, it was found (and everyone agreed) that White was not competent to stand trial. After White "rebuffed all efforts to treat her disorder," the Government sought and was granted permission to forcibly medicate her pursuant to Sell v. United States, 539 US 166 (2003). White sought an interlocutory appeal challenging that order.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed, 2-1. "The crux of this case," the court wrote, was whether the Government had a sufficiently important interest in prosecuting White that interference with her liberty interest against self medication was justified, measured against the presence of any "special circumstances" militating against the Government's interest. The court concluded that, in this case, such special circumstances existed to weigh against White's forced medication.

While noting that the offenses with which White was charged were "serious," the court pointed to the following special circumstances that undermined the Government's interest in prosecuting her: (1) the length of time she had already spent in custody - 29 months, versus the most likely sentence if convicted; (2) White's charged offenses, while serious, were not violent; (3) her commitment to the BoP for evaluation/observation precludes her from possessing a firearm, as a conviction would; (4) the nature of White's "unique" condition and unknown potential effects of the proposed treatments; and (5) the case is not "sufficiently exceptional" to justify forced medication. To hold otherwise would risk allowing forced medication to become routine, rather than limited, option in such cases. Judge Keenan concurred in the opinion, writing separately to "emphasize the constitutional liberty interest at stake and the high burden of proof" put upon the Government when it seeks forcible medication.

Judge Niemeyer dissented, taking issue with both the majority's classification of White's charged offenses and its determination that she would likely be detained beyond the sentence she would receive if convicted. He writes that "[i]f the majority were ever inclined to allow an order for involuntary medication to enable the government to try a defendant, this would be the paradigmatic case."

Congrats to the defender office in Eastern NC on the win!