Saturday, August 18, 2007

Possession of Sawed-off Shotgun Not A Violent Felony

In United States v. Amos, the Sixth Circuit became the first circuit court to rule that a conviction for the possession of a sawed-off shotgun does not constitute a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Six circuits had previously ruled to the contrary, on the idea that, since a sawed-off shotgun generally lacks any legitimate purpose, its possession must present a serious potential risk of injury. The Amos panel rejected that idea, relying on the plain language of the statute and then-Chief Judge Breyer's seminal decision in United States v. Doe that a felon--in-possession conviction does not constitute an ACCA violent felony. The basic rationale of the court was that the ACCA definition aims to embrace offenses of an active, rather than passive, nature, and that not all instances of possession of a sawed-off shotgun carry a serious potential risk of injury. Amos is the latest in a series of post-Leocal circuit decisions where the courts have taken a closer look at the violent felony or "crime of violence" definition, and recognized that the statuory language simply does not embark essentially passive offenses which do not, by the terms of their definition alone, create a dangerous situation. Great work by attorneys Michael Holley and Doug Thoresen at FPD in M.D. Tenn.