Friday, April 01, 2016

Residual clauses of ACCA and Career Offender Guideline are interpreted identically


           In United States v. Binford, No. 14-1635 (March 31, 2016), the defendant, Mr. Binford, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. He was subject to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) which applies to an offender who has at least three prior convictions for “violent felonies.” Under the ACCA, the statutory mandatory minimum is 15 years. Mr. Binford also qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G § 4B1.1 which applies to an offender who has at least two prior felony convictions for a “crime of violence.” As a career offender, Mr. Binford’s guideline range was 262 to 327 months.

          Mr. Binford challenged the use of two, prior Ohio convictions as predicate offenses for ACCA and career offender purposes. One felony conviction was for second degree burglary and the other was for fourth degree burglary. The district court held that the burglary convictions qualified as crimes of violence under the residual clauses of the ACCA and the guidelines. The district court followed the government’s recommendation and sentenced Mr. Binford on the gun charge to the mandatory minimum of 15 years under the ACCA.

          On direct appeal, the government conceded that the ACCA enhancement was improper because it acknowledged that Mr. Binford only had two prior qualifying convictions (for assault and second degree burglary). The only issue before the Sixth Circuit was whether the second degree burglary conviction was a “crime of violence” under the residual clause of the career offender guideline (U.S.S.G § 4B1.2(a)(2)). While Mr. Binford’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) that the identically worded residual clause of the ACCA was void for vagueness. See U.S.S.G § 4B1.2(a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

          The Sixth Circuit noted that it has interpreted the residual clauses of the ACCA and the career offender guideline identically and the Supreme Court has vacated the sentences of offenders who were sentenced under the guidelines’ residual clause. Consequently, the Sixth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Johnson.

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