559 U.S. 133 (2010), 08-6925, Johnson v. United States

Docket Nº:08-6925.
Citation:559 U.S. 133, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, 78 U.S.L.W. 4169
Opinion Judge:Scalia, Justice
Party Name:Curtis Darnell JOHNSON, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES.
Attorney:Lisa Call, Donna Lee Elm, Federal Defender, James T. Skuthan, Rosemary T. Cakmis, Robert Godfrey, Office of the Federal Defender, Jacksonville, FL, for Petitioner. Leondra R. Kruger, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, M...
Judge Panel:SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and STEVENS, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, J., joined. Justice Alito, with whom Justice Thomas, joins, dissenting.
Case Date:March 02, 2010
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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559 U.S. 133 (2010)

130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, 78 U.S.L.W. 4169

Curtis Darnell JOHNSON, Petitioner

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 08-6925.

United States Supreme Court

March 2, 2010

Argued October 6, 2009

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT No. 08–6925.

[130 S.Ct. 1266] Syllabus [*]

Petitioner Johnson pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). The Government sought sen­tencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which authorizes an enhanced penalty for a person who violates §922(g) and who "has three previous convictions" for "a violent felony," §924(e)(1), defined as, inter alia, an offense that "has as an element the use . . . of physi­cal force against the person of another," §924(e)(2)(B)(i). Among the three prior felony convictions the Government proffered was John­son's 2003 Florida conviction for simple battery, which ordinarily is a first-degree misdemeanor, Fla. Stat. §784.03(1)(b), but was a felony conviction for Johnson because he had previously been convicted of another battery, Fla. Stat. §784.03(2). Under Florida law, a battery occurs when a person either "[a]ctually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against [his] will," or "[i]ntentionally causes bodily harm to another person." §784.03(1)(a). Nothing in the record permitted the District Court to conclude that Johnson's 2003 convic­tion rested upon the "strik[ing]" or "[i]ntentionally caus[ing] bodily [1 L.Ed.2d 5] harm" elements of the offense. Accordingly, his conviction was a predicate conviction for a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act only if "[a]ctually and intentionally touch[ing]" another constitutes the use of "physical force" under §924(e)(2)(B)(i). Con­cluding it does, the District Court enhanced Johnson's sentence un­der §924(e)(1), sentencing him to a term of 15 years and 5 months. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Held:

The Florida felony offense of battery by "[a]ctually and intention­ally [130 S.Ct. 1267] touch[ing]" another person does not have "as an element the use . . . of physical force against the person of another," §924(e)(2)(B)(i), and thus does not constitute a "violent felony" under §924(e)(1). Pp. 1269 -1274, 137-145, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 7-12.

(a) In interpreting the phrase "physical force" in §924(e)(2)(B)(i), the Court is not bound by the Florida Supreme Court's conclusion in State v. Hearns, 961 So.2d 211, 218, that, under Florida's statutory equivalent to the Armed Career Criminal Act, Fla. Stat. §775.084, the offense of battery does not "involve the use . . . of physical force or violence against any individual," Fla. Stat. §776.08. The meaning of "physical force" in §924(e)(2)(B)(i) is a question of federal law, not state law. The Court is bound, however, by the Florida Supreme Court's interpretation of the

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elements of the state law offense, includ­ing the Florida Supreme Court's holding that §784.03(1)(a)'s element of "[a]ctually and intentionally touching" another person is satisfied by any intentional physical contact, no matter how slight. Pp. 1269-1270, 137-138, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 7-8.

(b) Because §924(e)(2)(B)(i) does not define "physical force," the Court gives the phrase its ordinary meaning. Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137, 144-145, 116 S.Ct. 501, 133 L.Ed.2d 472. The adjective "physical" is clear. The noun "force," however, has a number of meanings. Its ordinary meaning refers to the application of strength, power, and violence—in this con­text, against another person. P. 1270, Pp. 138-139, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 8..

(c) The Government suggests that "force" in §924(e)(2)(B)(i)'s defi­nition of "violent felony" is a legal term of art describing one of the elements of the common-law crime of battery. At common law, that element was satisfied by even the slightest offensive touching. Al­though a common-law term of art should be given its established common-law meaning, the Court does not ascribe to a statutory term a common-law meaning where that meaning does not fit. Here "physical force" is used in defining not the crime of battery, but rather the statutory category of "violent felony." §924(e)(2)(B)(i). In that context, "physical force" means violent force—i.e., force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person. Cf. Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 11, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271. Moreover, it is significant that the meaning the Government seeks to impute to the term "force" derives from the elements of a common-law misdemeanor. Nothing in the text of § 924(e)(2)(B)(i) suggests that "force" in the definition of a "violent fel­ony" should be regarded as a common-law term of art used to define the contours of a misdemeanor. Nor can any negative inference about the amount of "force" required by §924(e)(2)(B)(i) be drawn from §924(e)(2)(B)(ii) and §922(g)(8)(C)(ii). Pp. 1270 -1273, 139-143, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 8-11.

[1 L.Ed.2d 6] (d) There is no force to the Government's prediction that this deci­sion will undermine its ability to enforce §922(g)(9)'s firearm disabil­ity against a person previously convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence that has as an element the "use . . . of physical force," §921(a)(33)(A)(ii). The Court interprets the phrase "physical force" only in the context of a statutory definition of "violent felony," and does not decide whether the same meaning applies in the context of defining the scope of misdemeanor offenses. Similarly misplaced is the Government's assertion that it will now be more difficult to ob­tain sentencing enhancements for individuals convicted under ge­neric felony-battery statutes that cover both violent force and un­wanted physical contact, and to remove an alien convicted of a nonviolent battery conviction under the statutory provision for an alien convicted [130 S.Ct. 1268] of a "crime of domestic violence," 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2)(E). See, e.g., Chambers v.

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United States, 555 U.S. 122, 129 S.Ct. 687, 172 L.Ed.2d 484 (2009); Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 26, 125 S.Ct. 1254, 161 L.Ed.2d 205. Pp. 1273-1274, 143-145, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 11-12.

(e) Before the District Court the Government disclaimed any reli­ance upon the so-called "residual clause" of the definition of "violent felony" in §924(e)(2)(B)(ii), which covers an offense that "involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Accordingly, the Court declines to remand for considera­tion whether Johnson's 2003 battery conviction qualifies as a "violent felony" under that provision. P. 1274, 145, 176 L.Ed.2d, at 12.

528 F.3d 1318, reversed and remanded.

Lisa Call, Donna Lee Elm, Federal Defender, James T. Skuthan, Rosemary T. Cakmis, Robert Godfrey, Office of the Federal Defender, Jacksonville, FL, for Petitioner.

Leondra R. Kruger, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Deborah Watson, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and STEVENS, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 145. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, J., joined.

OPINION [1 L.Ed.2d 6]

Scalia, Justice

We decide whether the Florida felony offense of battery by "[a]ctually and intentionally touch[ing]" another per­son, Fla. Stat. §784.03(1)(a), (2) (2003), "has as an element the use . . . of physical force against the person of an­other," 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i), and thus constitutes a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act, §924(e)(1).

I

Curtis Johnson pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, in violation

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of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). The Government sought an enhanced penalty under §924(e), which provides that a person who violates §922(g) and who "has three previous convictions" for "a violent felony" "committed on occasions different from one another" shall be imprisoned for a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life. A "violent felony" is defined as "any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" that:

"(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or

"(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that pre­sents [1 L.Ed.2d 7] a serious potential risk of physical injury to an­other." §924(e)(2)(B).

Johnson's indictment specified five prior felony convic­tions. The Government contended that three of those convictions—for aggravated battery and for burglary of a dwelling in October 1986, and for battery in May 2003— rendered Johnson eligible for sentencing under §924(e)(1). At the sentencing hearing, Johnson did not dispute that the two 1986 convictions were for "violent felon[ies]," but he objected to counting his 2003 battery conviction. That [130 S.Ct. 1269] conviction was for simple battery under Florida law, which ordinarily is a first-degree misdemeanor, Fla. Stat. §784.03(1)(b), but is a third-degree felony for a defendant who (like Johnson) has been convicted of battery (even simple battery) before, §784.03(2).

Under §784.03(1)(a), a battery occurs when a person either "1. [a]ctually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other," or "2. [i]ntentionally causes bodily harm to another person." Because the elements of the offense are disjunctive, the prosecution can prove a battery in one of three ways. State v. Hearns, 961 So.2d 211, 218 (Fla. 2007). It can prove that the defendant

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"[i]ntentionally...

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