552 U.S. 23 (2007), 06-6911, Logan v. United States

Docket Nº:06-6911.
Citation:552 U.S. 23, 128 S.Ct. 475
Opinion Judge:GINSBURG, Justice
Party Name:James D. LOGAN, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES.
Attorney:Richard A. Coad argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Brian T. Fahl and Jeffrey T. Green. Daryl Joseffer argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Clement, Assistant Attorney General Fisher, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Jo...
Case Date:December 04, 2007
Court:United States Supreme Court

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552 U.S. 23 (2007)

128 S.Ct. 475

James D. LOGAN, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 06-6911.

United States Supreme Court

December 4, 2007

Argued Oct. 30, 2007.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

[128 S.Ct. 476] Syllabus

Under federal law, the maximum prison term for a felon convicted of possessing a firearm is ordinarily 10 years. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). If the offender's prior criminal record includes at least three convictions for "violent felon[ies,]" however, the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA) mandates a minimum term of 15 years. See § 924(e)(1). Congress defined the term "violent felony" to include specified crimes "punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one. year," § 924(e)(2)(B), but also provided that a state-law misdemeanor may qualify as a "violent felony" if the offense is punishable by a term of more than two years, § 921(a)(20)(B). Congress amended § 921(a)(20) in 1986 to exclude from qualification for enhanced sentencing "any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights [i.e., rights to vote, hold office, and serve on a juryl restored."

Petitioner Logan pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a 15-year sentence, the mandatory minimum under ACCA. In imposing this sentence, the court took account of [128 S.Ct. 477] three Wisconsin misdemeanor battery convictions, each of them punishable by a 3-year maximum sentence, and none of them revoking any of Logan's civil rights. Logan challenged his sentence on the ground that his state-court convictions fell within § 921(a)(20)'s "civil rights restored" exemption from ACCA's reach. Rights retained, Logan argued, should be treated the same as rights revoked but later restored. The District Court disagreed, holding that the exemption applies only to defendants whose civil rights were both lost and restored, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Held:

The exemption contained in § 921(a)(20) does not cover the case of an offender who retained civil rights at all times, and whose legal status, postconviction, remained in all respects unaltered by any state dispensation. Pp. 30-37.

(a) The ordinary meaning of the word "restored"—.giving back something that has been taken away—does not include retention of something never lost. Moreover, the context in which "restored" appears in § 921(a)(20) counsels adherence to the word's ordinary meaning. In § 921(a)(20), the words "civil rights restored" appear in the company of

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"expunged," "set aside," and "pardoned." Each of those terms describes a measure by which the government relieves an offender of some or all of the consequences of his conviction. In contrast, a defendant who retains rights is simply left alone. He receives no status-altering dispensation, no token of forgiveness from the government. Pp. 30-32.

(b) Logan's dominant argument against a plain-meaning approach is not persuasive. He relies on the harsh result a literal reading could yield: Unless retention of rights is treated as legally equivalent to restoration of rights, he maintains, less serious offenders will be subject to ACCA's enhanced penalties while more serious offenders in the same State, who have had civil rights restored, may escape heightened punishment. Logan urges that this result is not merely anomalous; it is absurd, particularly in States where restoration of civil rights occurs automatically upon release from prison. P. 32.

Logan's harsh or absurd consequences argument overlooks § 921(a)(20)'s "unless" clause, under which an offender gains no exemption from ACCA's application through an expungement, set aside, pardon, or restoration of civil rights if the dispensation "expressly provides that the [offender] may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms." Many States that restore felons' civil rights (or accord another measure of forgiveness) nonetheless impose or retain firearms disabilities. Further, Wisconsin no longer punishes misdemeanors by more than two years' imprisonment, and thus no longer has any misdemeanors that qualify as ACCA predicates. Pp. 32-33.

The resolution Logan proposes, in any event, would correct one potential anomaly while creating others. Under Logan's proposed construction, all crimes, including first-degree murder, would be treated as crimes for which "civil rights [have been] restored" in a State that does not revoke any offender's civil rights, while less serious crimes committed elsewhere would not. Accepting Logan's argument would also undercut § 921(a)(20)(B), which subjects to ACCA state misdemeanor convictions punishable by more than two years' imprisonment. Because misdemeanors generally entail no revocation of civil rights, reading the word "restored" to include "retained" would yield this curiosity: An offender would fall within ACCA's reach if his three prior offenses carried potential prison terms of over two years, [128 S.Ct. 478] but would be released from ACCA's grip by virtue of his retention of civil rights. This Court is disinclined to say that what Congress imposed with one hand (exposure to ACCA) it withdrew with the other (exemption from ACCA). Even assuming that when Congress revised § 921(a)(20) in 1986, it labored under the misapprehension that all misdemeanants and felons at least temporarily forfeit civil rights, and indulging the further assumption that courts may repair such a congressional oversight or mistake,

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this Court is not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made had its attention trained on offenders who retained civil rights; nor can the Court recast § 921(a)(20) in Congress' stead. Pp. 33-35.

Section 922(g)(9)—which was adopted 10 years after § 921(a)(20) was given its current shape and which outlaws possession of a firearm by anyone "convicted ... of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence"—cautions against any assumption that Congress did not mean to deny the § 921(a)(20) exemption to offenders who retained their civil rights. Tailored to § 922(g)(9), Congress adopted a definitional provision, § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii), corresponding to § 921(a)(20), which specifies expungement, set aside, pardon, or restoration of rights as dispensations that can cancel lingering effects of a conviction. That provision also demonstrates that the words "civil rights restored" do not cover a person whose civil rights were never taken away. It provides for restoration of civil rights as a qualifying dispensation only "if the law of the applicable jurisdiction provides for the loss of civil rights" in the first place. Section 921(a)(33)(B)(ii) also rebuts Logan's absurdity argument. Statutory terms may be interpreted against their literal meaning where the words could not conceivably have been intended to apply to the case at hand. See, e.g., Green v. Bock Laundry Machine Co., 490 U.S. 504, 511, 109 S.Ct. 1981, 104 L.Ed.2d 557. In § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii), however, Congress explicitly distinguished between "restored" and "retained," thereby making it more than, conceivable that the Legislature, albeit an earlier one, meant to do the same in § 921(a)(20). Pp. 35-37.

453 F.3d 804, affirmed.

COUNSEL

Richard A. Coad argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Brian T. Fahl and Jeffrey T. Green.

Daryl Joseffer argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Clement, Assistant Attorney General Fisher, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Joel M. Gershowitz[*]

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OPINION

GINSBURG, Justice

Petitioner James D. Logan pleaded guilty in a United States District Court to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Logan's record as a recidivist, which included three relevant state convictions, led the District Court to impose a 15-year prison term, the minimum sentence mandated by the [128 S.Ct. 479] Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) (2000 ed., Supp. V). For ACCA sentence-enhancement purposes, a prior conviction may be disregarded if the conviction "has been expunged, or set aside," or the offender "has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored." § 921(a)(20) (2000 ed.). None of Logan's prior convictions have been expunged or set aside. Nor has he been pardoned for any past crime. And, bearing importantly on the instant petition, the three state-court convictions that triggered Logan's ACCA-enhanced sentence occasioned no loss of civil lights.

Challenging his enhanced sentence, Logan presents this question: Does the "civil rights restored" exemption contained in § 921(a)(20) encompass, and therefore remove from ACCA's reach, state-court convictions that at no time deprived the offender of civil rights? We hold that the § 921(a)(20) exemption provision does not cover the case of an offender who retained civil rights at all times, and whose legal status, postconviction, remained in all respects unaltered by any state dispensation.

Section 921(a)(20) sets out postconviction events—expungement, set aside, pardon, or restoration of civil rights—that extend to an offender a measure of forgiveness, relieving him from some or all of the consequences of his conviction. Congress might have broadened the § 921(a)(20) exemption provision to cover convictions attended by no loss of civil rights. The national lawmakers, however, did not do so. Section 921(a)(20)'s failure to exempt convictions that do not revoke civil rights produces anomalies. But so does the extension of the § 921(a)(20), exemption that Logan advances.

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We are not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made had its attention trained on offenders who retained civil rights; nor can we recast § 921(a)(20) in Congress' stead.

I

Federal law generally prohibits...

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