News You Can Use: SCOTUS says 8th Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states

Last week, the Supreme Court decided Timbs v. Indiana, agreeing 9-0 that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states. The Court held that – like almost every other part of the Bill of Rights – the excessive fines clause restricts state and local governments to the same extent as the federal government.

In 1993, the Supreme Court applied the Excessive Fines Clause to in rem forfeiture proceedings in Austin v. United States. In rem forfeitures are essentially civil law suits instituted against property rather than people, which allow the government to take possession of the “rem” (thing) because of some connection to a crime, without actually convicting their owners or even proving their owners guilt. But the Court had never applied the Clause to state or local proceedings.

In Timbs, the Court held the Excessive Fines Clause limited Indiana’s ability to complete an in rem forfeiture of a Land Rover SUV that its owner had used to transport heroin. Mr. Timbs had recently purchased the seized SUV for $42,000 with insurance money received upon his father’s death–over four times the amount of money that he could have been fined in his criminal case. A lower Indiana court had already found this was an excessive fine under the U.S. Constitution. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed that decision based only on its erroneous determination that the Excessive Fines Clause was not incorporated against the states. Therefore, incorporation was the only issue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This case was not about whether, in fact, the forfeiture of the SUV was an excessive fine.

The Supreme Court set out a lengthy history of the prohibition on excessive fines. Because of this history, the Court held that the Excessive Fines Clause is both “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty” and “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” – only one of which had to be true for incorporation to be appropriate. Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___, slip op. at 3 (2019).

The country has taken notice of civil asset forfeiture, or “legalized theft” as it has been called.  And, now, so has the Supreme Court. This is essentially a unanimous decision. Justice Thomas wrote for himself, as he often does, to explain that rights should be incorporated against states under the Privileges and Immunities Clause and not the Due Process Clause. Justice Gorsuch indicated in a concurrence that he is likely to agree if that specific issue is ever squarely before the court. But all of the Justices were concerned about the frequency and creativity with which the government has violated the right to be free of excessive fines.

Takeaways

  • If your client is losing her stuff, no matter what agency or court is taking it, and no matter what mechanism is being used, think about an Excessive Fines Clause challenge.
  • Be creative. Justice Thomas, for one, has suggested applying a higher standard in these cases (clear and convincing evidence), and he wants you to preserve that issue. See Leonard v. Texas (Thomas, J., Statement respecting denial of cert.)
  • Be aggressive. Mine the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases for their strong language. See, e.g., id. at 848 (“This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.); Timbs (“Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”)
  • State court, federal court, it really does not matter. It will almost always be true that incorporated federal constitutional rights are to be interpreted identically no matter where you are. Once again, the Court noted and then distinguished the only exception: the Sixth Amendment’s Jury Clause. It requires jury trials in all felony cases, but it only requires unanimous verdicts in federal criminal cases. Why? “The result of an unusual division among the Justices.” Op. at 3 n. 1. Will something like that happen again? Probably not.

News You Can Use: SCOTUS decides more ACCA predicate cases (Part 1)

The Supreme Court recently decided the consolidated cases of United States v. Stitt (and United States v. Sims), No. 17-765, 2018 WL 6439818  (U.S. Dec. 10, 2018). The opinion holds that burglary of a vehicle adapted for overnight accommodation of persons is a generic burglary for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The Stitt opinion is another in a line of cases that have asked whether certain burglary convictions qualify as predicate offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The defendants in these cases, Victor J. Stitt and Jason Daniel Sims, were each convicted in federal court of unlawfully possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(1). The sentencing judge in each case imposed the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term that the ACCA requires for §922(g)(1) offenders who have at least three previous convictions for certain “violent” or drug-related felonies, §924(e)(1), based in part on burglary convictions.

The Supreme Court has previously stated that burglary of a vehicle is not a valid ACCA predicate. But the narrower question in this case was whether statutes that cover burglaries of vehicles that have been adapted or customarily used for overnight accommodation should qualify as ACCA predicates because they fall within the “generic” definition of burglary.

The categorical approach

Recall that the categorical approach first adopted Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), requires courts to evaluate a prior state conviction by reference to the elements of the state offense, rather than to the defendant’s conduct. In other words, you can’t look at the underlying facts of the prior conviction to figure out whether the predicate counts. A prior state burglary conviction does not qualify under the ACCA where “the elements of [the relevant state statute] are broader than those of generic burglary.” Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). Burglary statutes that cover vehicles as one possible means of committing the crime are therefore excluded from being predicate ACCA offenses because the statutes are overbroad. See, e.g., Mathis, 136 S. Ct. at 2250. (holding that Iowa statute covering burglary of “any building, structure, [or] land, water, or air vehicle” was overbroad and indivisible and thus did not qualify as an ACCA predicate).

The nitty gritty

Stitt’s prior convictions were for violations of a Tennessee statute that defines “[a]ggravated burglary” as “burglary of a habitation.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39–14–403(a) (1997). It further defines “[h]abitation” to include: (1) “any structure, including … mobile homes, trailers, and tents, which is designed or adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons,” and (2) any “self-propelled vehicle that is designed or adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons and is actually occupied at the time of initial entry by the defendant.” §§ 39–14–401(1)(A), (B) (emphasis added).

Similarly, Sims’ prior convictions were for violations of an Arkansas statute that prohibits burglary of a “residential occupiable structure.” Ark. Code Ann. § 5–39–201(a)(1) (Michie 1997). The statute defines “[r]esidential occupiable structure” to include:  “a vehicle, building, or other structure: (A) [w]here any person lives; or (B) [w]hich is customarily used for overnight accommodation of persons whether or not a person is actually present.” § 5–39–101(1) (emphasis added).

In both cases, the District Courts found the state statutory crimes fell within the scope of the word “burglary” in the Armed Career Criminal Act and consequently imposed that statute’s mandatory sentence enhancement. In both cases, the relevant Court of Appeals held that the statutory crimes did not fall within the scope of the word “burglary,” vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. The Government sought certiorari in both cases in part because of a circuit split that included an old Tenth Circuit case, United States v. Spring, 80 F.3d 1450, 1462 (10th Cir. 1996), which held that such burglary convictions would qualify as ACCA predicates.

The upshot

The Supreme Court surveyed state statutes from 1986 and earlier and determined that “a majority of state burglary statutes covered vehicles adapted or customarily used for lodging.” Stitt, 2018 WL 6439818, at *4. As a result, such burglary convictions were included within the definition of “generic burglary.” In so doing, the Supreme Court reversed the decisions below of the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, and also abrogated contrary precedent in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. See United States v. White, 836 F.3d 437, 446 (4th Cir. 2016); United States v. Grisel, 488 F.3d 844 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). Justice Breyer wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Takeaways

  • Burglary convictions/statutes that cover vehicles plain and simple are still out, but statutes that cover vehicles “adapted for overnight accommodation of persons” will now qualify as ACCA predicates—as long as they are not overbroad and indivisible in some other way.
  • For a refresher on the categorical approach, see Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), available here.
  • Remember: burglary convictions are NEVER crimes of violence under the career offender provisions of the Guidelines (this case affects only potential ACCA clients).

 

 

News You Can Use: Tenth Circuit Holds Kansas Aggravated Robbery Isn’t a Violent Felony

In United States v. Bong, the Tenth Circuit held that Kansas aggravated robbery isn’t a violent felony for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. Mr. Bong was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to more than 24 years in prison. He was sentenced under the ACCA based on at least seven prior convictions that the district court believed qualified as violent felonies: three Kansas simple robberies, three Kansas aggravated robberies, and one Kansas attempted robbery. On appeal, Mr. Bong argued that none of those prior convictions qualified as violent felonies that could trigger the ACCA, and the Tenth Circuit agreed.

By statute, Kansas defines robbery as “the taking of property from the person or presence of another by threat of bodily harm to his person or the person of another or by force.” The statute defining aggravated robbery defines that offense as “a robbery committed by a person who is armed with a dangerous weapon or who inflicts bodily harm upon any person during the course of such robbery.” At first blush, these statutes would seem to qualify as violent felonies. But a closer look revealed that they don’t qualify.

 Although the Kansas statutes seem to require force, the Kansas Supreme Court has interpreted them to require no such thing. In one case, the Kansas Supreme Court held that mere purse snatching constitutes robbery and, in a different case, held that mere possession of a weapon (absent use or brandishing) can elevate a robbery conviction to aggravated robbery.

Based on the Kansas Supreme Court’s interpretation of its robbery statutes, the Tenth Circuit held that Mr. Bong’s prior convictions did not count as violent felonies. First, as to simple robbery, the “mere snatching of a purse” — “without any application of force directly to the victim” and “without any resistance by or injury to the victim” — “falls short of the ‘violent force’ required” to qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA. Bong, Slip op. at 19-20. Second, as to aggravated robbery, “nothing about [a] defendant’s mere possession of a firearm (or another deadly weapon) would . . . necessarily cause[] the crime to involve” the use, attempted use, or threatened use of violent force required to trigger the ACCA. Id. at 23-24.

 

TAKEAWAYS

 1. Robbery offenses that can be committed by mere purse snatching don’t qualify as violent felonies under the ACCA (and likely don’t qualify as crimes of violence under the sentencing guidelines).

 2. Offenses that require simply possessing a weapon, as opposed to using or brandishing a weapon, don’t qualify as violent felonies under the ACCA (and likely don’t qualify as crimes of violence under the sentencing guidelines).

3. Even when an offense sounds like it would be a violent felony or crime of violence (Aggravated Robbery With a Deadly Weapon!), it may not qualify. Even when the statute defining an offense sounds like it defines a violent felony or crime of violence, it may not qualify. You must always look to see how the state courts have construed the statute.

 

News You Can Use: SCOTUS considers eliminating the “separate sovereigns” double jeopardy exception

This week, the Supreme Court hears argument in Gamble v. United States, a case asking whether the Court should overrule the “separate sovereigns” exception to the double jeopardy clause. Gamble has significant practical implications, but also raises interesting issues of constitutional interpretation, historical practice, and adherence to precedent.

Following a 2015 traffic stop in which police found a gun, the state of Alabama prosecuted Mr. Gamble for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison. But the federal government then pursued its own case against him for the same crime (being a felon in possession of a firearm), and based on the same conduct (possessing the firearm found during the traffic stop).

While the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits any person from being tried twice for the same offense, the Supreme Court has long recognized an exception to that principle. Prosecution in federal and state court for the same conduct does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause because the state and federal governments are considered separate sovereigns. See Abbate v. United States, 359 U.S. 187, 195 (1959).

This “separate sovereigns” exception (also called the “dual sovereignty” exception) would seem to countenance both prosecutions of Mr. Gamble. That’s what the Southern District of Alabama and the Eleventh Circuit both held below. As the circuit court put it, “unless and until the Supreme Court overturns Abbate, [this type of] double jeopardy claim must fail based on the dual sovereignty doctrine.” 694 F. App’x at 750-51.

But Mr. Gamble had an opening to argue for that very overruling. Two terms ago, in Puerto Rico v Sanchez Valle, the Supreme Court held that Puerto Rico was not a separate sovereign from the United States because it derived its authority from Congress. So, Puerto Rico and the United States could not both prosecute a person for the same conduct under equivalent criminal laws.

Notable here, however, was Justice Ginsburg’s concurrence, joined by Justice Thomas, in which she wrote to “flag a larger question that bears fresh examination in an appropriate case”—that is, whether the Court’s separate sovereigns doctrine served the Double Jeopardy Clause’s goal “to shield individuals from the harassment of multiple prosecutions for the same misconduct.” 136 S. Ct. 1877. The concurrence suggested it did not, and that the issue warranted the Court’s attention. 

The Court decided Sanchez-Valle on June 9, 2016.  About a week later, Mr. Gamble moved to dismiss the indictment, the motion predicated on Justice Ginsburg’s concurrence and call to revisit the separate sovereigns doctrine. Two years later, the Supreme Court granted granted certiorari.

SCOTUSblog has an excellent argument preview here: http://www.scotusblog.com/2018/11/argument-preview-justices-to-reconsider-potentially-far-reaching-double-jeopardy-exception/

For a fascinating historical perspective on the question, check out the amicus brief filed by law professors contending that dual sovereignty is a historical accident, and not part of the constitutional design.

 

Takeaways:

  • Be on the lookout for any dual-sovereignty issues in current cases, and preserve that challenge by filing a motion to dismiss the indictment.
  • Remember to pay attention to concurrences and dissents (including dissents from the denial of certiorari). Gamble finds its roots in Justice Ginsburg’s Sanchez-Valle concurrence. Shortly after that concurrence, Mr. Gamble moved to preserve the issue, and two years later the Court granted certiorari on the question.
  • Stare decisis is not always decisive. Even long-standing legal doctrines may be reconsidered, and Mr. Gamble argued persuasively in his petition for certiorari that both the doctrinal and factual premises supporting the separate sovereigns exception have eroded significantly since its adoption. (See Petition at 7-17.)

 

 

News You Can Use: SCOTUS grants cert in Haymond — why that might matter to your clients facing revocation of supervised release in the Tenth Circuit

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in United States v. Haymond, in which the Tenth Circuit struck down as unconstitutional 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k)’s provision requiring a mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment following revocation of supervised release based on certain sex crimes.

Generally, a defendant faces a supervised release term of no more than 5 years, and upon revocation for a violation, a term of imprisonment of no more than 5 years. That’s where the underlying offense of conviction is a class A felony. The potential penalties are progressively less severe for less serious offenses.

However, 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) carves out a special, and especially extreme, exception for certain sex offenses and revocations based on the commission of new sex offenses—a supervised release term of 5 years to life, and upon revocation, a term of imprisonment of 5 years to life. So, what is usually the ceiling (a 5-year max for class A felonies) becomes the floor (a mandatory minimum of 5 years for certain sex offenses).

In Haymond, the Tenth Circuit held that the mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment is unconstitutional because it changes the mandatory sentencing range based on a court’s finding by a preponderance of the evidence, instead of a jury’s finding beyond a reasonable doubt.

In so holding, the Court primarily relied on a trio of Supreme Court cases: (1) Apprendi, which held that any fact that increases the stat max must be submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) Alleyne, which applied Apprendi to mandatory minimums; and (3) Booker, which extended the substance of these 6th Amendment principals to the sentencing context.

The government petitioned for certiorari, and the Supreme Court granted it, even though the Tenth Circuit is the only court to have even considered the issue (so, no circuit split; the government’s pitch was error correction on a “significant and recurring question of federal law”), and § 3583(k) does not appear to be a frequently invoked statute. That might not bode well for Haymond’s survival.

Takeaway: If you have a client facing revocation based on § 3583(k), or want to make an argument based on an extension of Haymond, move quickly. Do not let the government stay the proceedings pending resolution of Haymond in the Supreme Court. See Yong v. I.N.S., 208 F.3d 1116, 1119 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000) (“[O]nce a federal circuit court issues a decision, the district courts within that circuit are bound to follow it and have no authority to await a ruling by the Supreme Court before applying the circuit court’s decision as binding authority . . . .”).

 

News You Can Use: 2018 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines, Effective 11/1/2018

The 2018 Amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines go into effect on November 1, 2018.  The National Sentencing Resource Counsel Project has prepared a helpful summary of the changes and also included relevant practice tips (noted as “Defender comments”). The SRC memo is available here: SRC Summary of 2018 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines.

Notable changes include amendments to:

(1) the drug guidelines for synthetic drugs, namely cathinones, cannabinoids, and fentanyl analogues;

(2) the illegal reentry guideline;

(3) the acceptance of responsibility guideline (now adding language to clarify that unsuccessful challenges to relevant conduct should not bar application of the acceptance reduction);

(4) the Commentary to §5C1.1 (now directing that courts “should consider imposing a sentence other than” imprisonment for nonviolent first offenders falling in Zones A and B);

(5) the Commentary to §4A1.3 (now providing a non-exhaustive list of factors a court may consider in determining whether and to what extent to depart upward based on tribal court convictions);

(6) the fraud guideline (now adding the 20th specific offense characteristic to §2B1.1 for defendants convicted of certain forms of social security fraud).

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Please make sure to look at the actual language of the Amendments  on the Commission’s website. And, recall that, for amendments that hurt defendants, ex post facto limitations apply, and the Guidelines Manual in effect on the date of the offense of conviction should apply if beneficial.

 

 

Resource: OIG Report On BOP’s Treatment Of Female Inmates

The Bureau of Prisons initiated a review of its management of female inmates in response to concerns raised by Congress and public interest groups over possible deficiencies in how BOP treated female inmates. The review was conducted by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The sixty-page report released last month made these findings:

  • BOP institutions are not complying with policies for female inmates, specifically the Female Offender Manual, which was issued in November 2016 but has not yet been fully implemented.
  • BOP has inadequate staffing at the office that oversees management of female inmates.
  • BOP is failing to adequately implement programming for female inmates specifically in areas of trauma and pregnancy.
    • The report stated that 90% of the female prison population has experienced physical or emotional trauma. While BOP has trauma programs, the wait is too long.
    • Only 37% of pregnant inmates received the pregnancy programming even though spots were available. OIG attributed the problem largely to the lack of social workers at BOP institutions as social workers must refer inmates to the programs.
  • BOP is not providing adequate feminine hygiene products to female inmates.

The report also contained some interesting facts:

  • Most female and male inmates are in BOP for drug crimes but female inmates are less likely to be convicted of weapons, sex or other violent offenses.
  • The median sentence for female inmates is 5 years while it is ten for men.
  • Nearly all female inmates are classified as low or minimum security.
  • There is no medium security classification for female inmates.

BOP also highlighted four programs available to female inmates:

(1) The Resolve program for female inmates with a history of trauma-related mental illness. It lasts 40 weeks.

(2) The Female Integrated Treatment program (FIT) for trauma, substance abuse and mental health. This is only available at the low security facility in Danbury. 

(3) Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together Program (MINT) in which female inmates may stay with their babies for up to 6 months after birth.

(4) The Residential Parenting Program in Gig Harbor, where female inmates may stay with their babies for up to 30 months after birth.