A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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By Burt Rose

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The SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES has decided the case of SAMUEL JAMES JOHNSON, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES, No. 13–7120. JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B), a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm faces more severe punishment if he has three or more previous convictions for a “violent felony,” a term defined to include any felony that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”The District Court held that the residual clause does cover unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun, and imposed a 15-year sen­tence under the ACCA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court decided that this language regarding the definition of a violent felony cannot survive the Constitution’s prohibition against vagueness in criminal laws and thus it violates due process. Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opinion.

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