905 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2018), 17-10172, Ovalles v. United States
|Citation:||905 F.3d 1231, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 1406|
|Opinion Judge:||NEWSOM, Circuit Judge|
|Party Name:||Irma OVALLES, Petitioner-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent-Appellee.|
|Attorney:||W. Matthew Dodge, Stephanie A. Kearns, Federal Defender Program, Inc., Atlanta, GA, for Petitioner - Appellant. Kim S. Dammers, John Andrew Horn, Jane Elizabeth McBath, Erin Sanders, U.S. Attorney Service - Northern District of Georgia, U.S. Attorneys Office, Atlanta, GA, for Respondent - Appell...|
|Judge Panel:||Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT, MARCUS, WILSON, WILLIAM PRYOR, MARTIN, JORDAN, ROSENBAUM, JILL PRYOR, NEWSOM, BRANCH, and HULL, Circuit Judges. WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge, joined by ED CARNES, Chief Judge, and TJOFLAT, NEWSOM, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges, concurring: MARTIN, Circuit Judg...|
|Case Date:||October 04, 2018|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit|
W. Matthew Dodge, Stephanie A. Kearns, Federal Defender Program, Inc., Atlanta, GA, for Petitioner - Appellant.
Kim S. Dammers, John Andrew Horn, Jane Elizabeth McBath, Erin Sanders, U.S. Attorney Service - Northern District of Georgia, U.S. Attorneys Office, Atlanta, GA, for Respondent - Appellee.
Jonathan R. Ference-Burke, Ropes & Gray, LLP, Washington, DC, Aaron Katz, Erin Macgowan, Ropes & Gray, LLP, Boston, MA, for Amici Curiae FAMILIES AGAINST MANDATORY MINIMUMS, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, D.C. Docket Nos. 1:16-cv-02392-TWT; 1:10-cr-00305-TWT-RVG-1
Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT, MARCUS, WILSON, WILLIAM PRYOR, MARTIN, JORDAN, ROSENBAUM, JILL PRYOR, NEWSOM, BRANCH, and HULL,[*] Circuit Judges.
NEWSOM, Circuit Judge
The question before us is whether one of the key provisions of an important federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), is unconstitutionally vague. As relevant to our purposes, § 924(c) makes it a federal offense— punishable by a term of imprisonment ranging from five years to life— for any person to use, carry, or possess a firearm in connection with a "crime of violence." 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). The provision challenged here— § 924(c)(3)s "residual clause"— defines the term "crime of violence" to mean a felony "that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense." Id. § 924(c)(3)(B).
This case is in some respects a successor to Johnson v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), and Sessions v. Dimaya, __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 1204, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018), in which the Supreme Court invalidated similarly-worded residual clauses on vagueness grounds. In the wake of those decisions, all here seem to agree that if § 924(c)(3)s residual clause is interpreted to require determination of the crime-of-violence issue using what (in court-speak) has come to be called the "categorical approach," the clause is doomed. As the Supreme Court has explained and applied it, this categorical approach— which the provisions at issue in both Johnson and Dimaya were deemed to embody— does not permit consideration of a defendants specific conduct or how she "might have committed [her crime] on a particular occasion," but rather focuses exclusively on "how the law defines the offense" as a formal matter and whether, in the abstract, "the kind of conduct that the crime involves in the ordinary case" meets the statutory standard. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2557 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In both Johnson and Dimaya, the Court concluded that application of a standard that requires a reviewing court "to imagine an idealized ordinary case of the crime " rendered the challenged clauses impermissibly vague. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. at 1214 (quoting Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2557-58).
On the flip side, Johnson and Dimaya also make clear— and it is common ground here— that if § 924(c)(3)s residual clause is instead interpreted to incorporate what well call a "conduct-based approach" to the crime-of-violence determination, then the provision is not unconstitutionally vague. As its name suggests, the conduct-based approach, in stark contrast to the categorical, focuses not on formal legal definitions and hypothetical "ordinary case[s]," but rather on the real-world facts of the defendants offense— i.e., how the defendant actually went about committing the crime in question. And as the Supreme
Court emphasized in Johnson — and then reiterated in Dimaya — there is no reason to "doubt the constitutionality of laws that call for the application of a qualitative standard such as substantial risk to real-world conduct." Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2561 (quoted in Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. at 1214).
The obvious (and decisive) question, then: Which is it here— categorical or conduct-based? Because we find ourselves at this fork in the interpretive road— the categorical approach imperiling § 924(c)(3)s residual clause, a conduct-based reading saving it— we invoke the canon of "constitutional doubt." Pursuant to that "elementary rule," the Supreme Court has long held, "every reasonable construction must be resorted to in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality." Hooper v. California, 155 U.S. 648, 657, 15 S.Ct. 207, 39 L.Ed. 297 (1895). The pivotal issue, therefore, is not whether § 924(c)(3)s residual clause is necessarily, or even best, read to incorporate a conduct-based interpretation— but simply whether it can "reasonabl[y]," see id., "plausibl[y]," Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371, 381, 125 S.Ct. 716, 160 L.Ed.2d 734 (2005), or "fairly possibl[y]," I.N.S. v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 300, 121 S.Ct. 2271, 150 L.Ed.2d 347 (2001), be so understood. Joining the Second Circuit, which recently came to the same conclusion, see United States v. Barrett, 903 F.3d 151 (2d Cir. 2018), we find that § 924(c)(3)(B) can be read to embody the conduct-based approach— and therefore, under the constitutional-doubt canon, that it must be.
Accordingly, we hold that § 924(c)(3)(B) prescribes a conduct-based approach, pursuant to which the crime-of-violence determination should be made by reference to the actual facts and circumstances underlying a defendants offense. To the extent that our earlier decision in United States v. McGuire, 706 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 2013), holds otherwise, it is overruled.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), "any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence ... uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm" is guilty of a federal offense and subject to a prison term ranging between five years and life. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Section 924(c) defines the term "crime of violence" as "an offense that is a felony" and— (A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.
Id. § 924(c)(3). For ease of reference— and as a way of facilitating comparisons with other similar statutes— well call Subsection (3)(A) the "elements clause" and Subsection (3)(B) the "residual clause."1
Importantly here, this Court held in United States v. McGuire that the question whether a predicate offense qualifies as a "crime of violence" under either subsection is one that a court "must answer categorically— that is, by reference to the elements of the offense, and not the actual facts of [the defendants] conduct." 706 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).
In 2010, Irma Ovalles was charged by information with six robbery- and carjacking-related offenses, all of which arose out of what can only be described as a three-day crime binge. As particularly relevant here, Ovalles was charged with (1) attempted carjacking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119 and (2) using and carrying a firearm during a "crime of violence"— the attempted carjacking— in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Ovalles entered into a written plea agreement in which she admitted that "she [was] in fact guilty" on all six counts. At her plea hearing, the government outlined the elements of each crime, and Ovalles explained that she understood what the government would have to prove should she opt to go to trial.
The government then made a comprehensive factual proffer detailing Ovalless involvement in the crimes. In general, the proffer summarized the evidence demonstrating that Ovalles and her co-conspirators (1) robbed a grocery store while armed with baseball bats, then (2) still wielding the bats, carjacked a Dodge Ram, then (3) carjacked a Toyota 4-Runner, pistol-whipping its owner, then (4) attempted to carjack a Chevy Venture— more on this one below— and finally (5) carjacked a Ford F-150 at gunpoint. More specifically, concerning the attempted carjacking of the Chevy Venture— during which one of Ovalless accomplices fired an AK-47, and which therefore serves as the predicate offense for Ovalless § 924(c) conviction— the governments proffer explained as follows: They see a family getting out of a Chevy Venture in Clayton County, Georgia, and as the family is getting out of their car, these two defendants along with their...
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