The Role of Crimes of Violence in Enhanced Federal Sentencing

The Supreme Court recently held that the “residual clause” of 18 U.S.C. 16(b) is unconstitutionally vague and violates the due process clause. 18 USC Section 16(b) defines a “crime of violence” as an offense that involves the use of force against the person or property of another or any other offense that is a felony and involves a substantial risk that physical force against a person or property may be used in the course of committing an offense. The second section of this law, the “residual clause,” is similar to how “crimes of violence” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which the Supreme Court held unconstitutional.

How the Case in Question Arose

The case in question, Sessions v. Dimaya, originated during the Obama administration but only concluded recently. In the case, a Philippine citizen who was a lawful resident of the United States for 25 years pled guilty to burglary in California. The government then attempted to have the man’s green card revoked so the man would be deported from the country. An immigration judge held that the California first-degree offense of burglary satisfies the definition of a crime of violence. After the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed this decision, Dimaya appealed his case to the Ninth Circuit. While Dimaya’s case was pending, the Supreme Court decided the case of Johnson which examined whether the definition of “violent felony” in the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague. The court found that the section of this law that states “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” is unconstitutionally vague.

What is the Existing Crime of Violence Law?

People who are legally residing in the United States can still be permanently deported if they committed certain crimes. While some federal crimes like assault and kidnapping are viewed as constituting crimes of violence, there are a large number of crimes that are treated differently by different states. Under the existing federal statute, a crime of violence is an offense that involves a substantial risk that physical force against a person or property may be used in committing the crime. While courts often have little difficulty deciding to convict a person of one of the crimes of violence offenses enumerated in federal code, other convictions are much more difficult. Under the United States Constitution, however, criminal laws must clearly define what acts are punishable, which is also referred to as the “vagueness doctrine.” A criminal law that is not sufficiently definite so that an ordinary person would understand acts would be unlawful is considered to be “void for vagueness.”  

Obtain the Assistance of a Strong Federal Appeals Attorney

If you must appeal a sentence, it is critical to obtain the assistance of a strong federal appeals attorney who knows how to best navigate the numerous complicated issues that are involved. Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today for assistance.