__ U.S. __ (2015), 13-7120, Johnson v. United States

Docket Nº13-7120
Citation__ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569, 83 U.S.L.W. 4576
Opinion JudgeSCALIA, JUSTICE
Party NameSAMUEL JAMES JOHNSON, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES
AttorneyKatherine M. Menendez argued thew cause for petitioner. Michael R. Dreeben argued the cause for respondent.
Judge PanelSCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., and THOMAS, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion. JUSTICE KENNEDY, concurring in the judgment. JUSTICE THO...
Case DateJune 26, 2015
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page __

__ U.S. __ (2015)

135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569, 83 U.S.L.W. 4576, 25 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 459

SAMUEL JAMES JOHNSON, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES

No. 13-7120

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 2015

[135 S.Ct. 2552] Argued November 5, 2014

Reargued April 20, 2015

Editorial Note:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed official reporter.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Reversed and remanded.

SYLLABUS

[135 S.Ct. 2553] [192 L.Ed.2d 574] After petitioner Johnson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), the Government sought an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes an increased prison term upon a defendant with three prior convictions for [135 S.Ct. 2554] a " violent felony," § 924(e)(1), a term defined by § 924(e)(2)(B)'s residual clause to include any felony that " involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." The Government argued that Johnson's [192 L.Ed.2d 575] prior conviction for unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun met this definition, making the third conviction of a violent felony. This Court had previously pronounced upon the meaning of the residual clause in James v. United States, 550 U.S. 192, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532; Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490; Chambers v. United States, 555 U.S. 122, 129 S.Ct. 687, 172 L.Ed.2d 484; and Sykes v. United States, 564 U.S. 1, 131 S.Ct. 2267, 180 L.Ed.2d 60, and had rejected suggestions by dissenting Justices in both James and Sykes that the clause is void for vagueness. Here, the District Court held that the residual clause does cover unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun, and imposed a 15-year sentence under ACCA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Held :

Imposing an increased sentence under ACCA's residual clause violates due process. Pp. 3-15.

(a) The Government violates the Due Process Clause when it takes away someone's life, liberty, or property under a criminal law so vague that it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, or so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement. Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357-358, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 75 L.Ed.2d 903. Courts must use the " categorical approach" when deciding whether an offense is a violent felony, looking " only to the fact that the defendant has been convicted of crimes falling within certain categories, and not to the facts underlying the prior convictions." Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 600, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 109 L.Ed.2d 607 . Deciding whether the residual clause covers a crime thus requires a court to picture the kind of conduct that the crime involves in " the ordinary case," and to judge whether that abstraction presents a serious potential risk of physical injury. James, supra, at 208, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532. Pp. 3-5.

(b) Two features of the residual clause conspire to make it unconstitutionally vague. By tying the judicial assessment of risk to a judicially imagined " ordinary case" of a crime rather than to real-world facts or statutory elements, the clause leaves grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime. See James, supra, at 211, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532. At the same time, the residual clause leaves uncertainty about how much risk it takes for a crime to qualify as a violent felony. Taken together, these uncertainties produce more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates. This Court's repeated failure to craft a principled standard out of the residual clause and the lower courts' persistent inability to apply the clause in a consistent way confirm its hopeless indeterminacy. Pp. 5-10.

(c) This Court's cases squarely contradict the theory that the residual clause is constitutional merely because some underlying crimes may clearly pose a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. See, e.g., United States v. L. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81, 89, 41 S.Ct. 298, 65 L.Ed. 516. Holding the residual clause void for vagueness does not put other criminal laws that use terms such as " substantial risk" in doubt, because those laws generally require gauging the riskiness of an individual's conduct on a particular occasion, not the [192 L.Ed.2d 576] riskiness of an idealized ordinary case of the crime. Pp. 10-13.

(d) The doctrine of stare decisis does not require continued adherence to James [135 S.Ct. 2555] and Sykes. Experience leaves no doubt about the unavoidable uncertainty and arbitrariness of adjudication under the residual clause. James and Sykes opined about vagueness without full briefing or argument. And continued adherence to those decisions would undermine, rather than promote, the goals of evenhandedness, predictability, and consistency served by stare decisis. Pp. 13-15.

526 F.App'x 708, reversed and remanded.

Katherine M. Menendez argued thew cause for petitioner.

Michael R. Dreeben argued the cause for respondent.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., and THOMAS, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

SCALIA, JUSTICE

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm faces more severe punishment if he has three or more previous convictions for a " violent felony," a term defined to include any felony that " involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). We must decide whether this part of the definition of a violent felony survives the Constitution's prohibition of vague criminal laws.

I

Federal law forbids certain people -- such as convicted felons, persons committed to mental institutions, and drug users -- to ship, possess, and receive firearms. § 922(g). In general, the law punishes violation of this ban by up to 10 years' imprisonment. § 924(a)(2). But if the violator has three or more earlier convictions for a " serious drug offense" or a " violent felony," the Armed Career Criminal Act increases his prison term to a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life. § 924(e)(1); Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 136, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1 (2010). The Act defines " violent felony" as follows:

" 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 a serious [135 S.Ct. 2556] potential risk of physical injury to another." § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

The closing words of this definition, italicized above, have come to be known as the Act's residual clause. Since 2007, this Court has decided four cases attempting to discern its meaning. We have held that the residual clause (1) covers Florida's offense of attempted burglary, James v. United States, 550 U.S. 192, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532 (2007); (2) does not cover New Mexico's offense of driving under the influence, Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 128 S.Ct. [192 L.Ed.2d 577] 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008); (3) does not cover Illinois' offense of failure to report to a penal institution, Chambers v. United States, 555 U.S. 122, 129 S.Ct. 687, 172 L.Ed.2d 484 (2009); and (4) does cover Indiana's offense of vehicular flight from a law-enforcement officer, Sykes v. United States, 564 U.S. 1, 131 S.Ct. 2267, 180 L.Ed.2d 60(2011). In both James and Sykes, the Court rejected suggestions by dissenting Justices that the residual clause violates the Constitution's prohibition of vague criminal laws. Compare James, 550 U.S., at 210, n. 6, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532, with id., at 230, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532 (SCALIA, J., dissenting); compare Sykes, 564 U.S., at __, 131 S.Ct. 2267, 180 L.Ed.2d 60 (slip op., at 13-14), with id., at __, 131 S.Ct. 2267, 180 L.Ed.2d 60 (SCALIA, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 6-8).

This case involves the application of the residual clause to another crime, Minnesota's offense of unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun. Petitioner Samuel Johnson is a felon with a long criminal record. In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to monitor him because of his involvement in a white-supremacist organization that the Bureau suspected was planning to commit acts of terrorism. During the investigation, Johnson disclosed to undercover agents that he had manufactured explosives and that he planned to attack " the Mexican consulate" in Minnesota, " progressive bookstores," and " 'liberals.'" Revised Presentence Investigation in No. 0:12CR00104-001 (D. Minn.), p. 15, ¶ 16. Johnson showed the agents his AK-47 rifle, several semiautomatic firearms, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

After his eventual arrest, Johnson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of § 922(g). The Government requested an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. It argued that three of Johnson's previous offenses--including unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun, see Minn. Stat. § 609.67 (2006) -- qualified as violent felonies. The District Court agreed and sentenced Johnson to a 15-year prison term under the Act. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 526 F.App'x 708 (CA8 2013) ( per curiam ). We granted certiorari to decide whether Minnesota's offense of unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun ranks as a violent felony under the residual clause. 572 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1871, 188 L.Ed.2d 910 (2014). We later asked the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
13091 practice notes
  • Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility
    • United States
    • Executive Office For Immigration Review,U.s. Citizenship And Immigration Services
    • Invalid date
    ...crime'' as a general matter. Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 141 (2008), abrogated on other grounds by Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). It takes ``a grisly toll on the Nation's roads, claiming thousands of lives, injuring many more victims, and inflicting billions of ......
  • 300 F.Supp.3d 1215 (D.Or. 2018), 6:06-cr-60050-MC, United States v. Savath
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit United States District Court (Oregon)
    • March 7, 2018
    ...ORS § 163.160, no longer qualify as violent felonies in light of Johnson v. United States ("Johnson II"), __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), which struck down the ACCA residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. LEGAL FRAMEWORK Under ......
  • 428 F.Supp.3d 31 (W.D.Wis. 2019), 18-cv-152-jdp, Unitedd States v. Ryan
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Western District of Wisconsin
    • December 20, 2019
    ...to due process because the statute is unconstitutionally vague under principles in Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015). But for reasons explained in the opinion, Johnson has no bearing on this case. Ryan had fair notice tha......
  • 968 F.3d 1053 (9th Cir. 2020), 18-72593, Gallardo v. Barr
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    • August 6, 2020
    ...vagueness concerns. Id. (citing the Supreme Court's then-recent decision in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), which struck down the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague). Because C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13010 cases
  • 300 F.Supp.3d 1215 (D.Or. 2018), 6:06-cr-60050-MC, United States v. Savath
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit United States District Court (Oregon)
    • March 7, 2018
    ...ORS § 163.160, no longer qualify as violent felonies in light of Johnson v. United States ("Johnson II"), __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), which struck down the ACCA residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. LEGAL FRAMEWORK Under ......
  • 428 F.Supp.3d 31 (W.D.Wis. 2019), 18-cv-152-jdp, Unitedd States v. Ryan
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Western District of Wisconsin
    • December 20, 2019
    ...to due process because the statute is unconstitutionally vague under principles in Johnson v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015). But for reasons explained in the opinion, Johnson has no bearing on this case. Ryan had fair notice tha......
  • 968 F.3d 1053 (9th Cir. 2020), 18-72593, Gallardo v. Barr
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 6, 2020
    ...vagueness concerns. Id. (citing the Supreme Court's then-recent decision in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015), which struck down the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague). Because C......
  • United States v. Concord Management & Consulting LLC, 111518 DCDC, Crim. A. 18-cr-32-2 (DLF)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 15, 2018
    ...of the conduct it punishes” or is “so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement.” Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2556 (2016). But the Supreme Court has stressed that the void-for-vagueness doctrine “does not invalidate every statute which a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 firm's commentaries
47 books & journal articles
  • Analyzing the Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine as Applied to Statutory Defenses: Lessons from Iowa's Stand-Your-Ground Law
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 105-5, July 2020
    • July 1, 2020
    ...–13 (plurality opinion); id. at 1224–28 (Gorsuch, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment)). 47. Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2556 (2015); see Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 353 (1983). 48. Johnson, 135 S. Ct. at 2556. 2020] ANALYZING THE VOID-FOR-VAGUENESS DO......
  • The power to define offenses against the law of nations.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 40 Nbr. 2, May 2017
    • May 1, 2017
    ...ENGLISH LANGUAGE (6th ed. 1785). (20.) McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316, 419, 420 (1819). (21.) See, e.g., Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2556 (2015). (22.) See 18 U.S. 153, 164-83 (1820) (Livingston, J., dissenting). (23.) See id. at 156-63 (majority opinion). (24.) See infra......
  • The Power of Police Officers to Give 'Lawful Orders'.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 129 Nbr. 5, March 2020
    • March 1, 2020
    ...offense as a first-degree misdemeanor). (64.) Beckles v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 886, 892 (2017) (quoting Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, (65.) Id. (66.) State v. Illig-Renn, 142 P.3d 62, 70-71 (Or. 2006). (67.) Id. at 71. (68.) Id. (69.) 612 P.2d 792 (Wash. 1980), abrogated by......
  • Criminal justice and the 2014-2015 United States Supreme Court term.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 61 Nbr. 2, June - June 2016
    • June 22, 2016
    ...note 31, at 368 (indicating Alito voted conservative more frequently in criminal justice cases that Term than any other Justice). (56.) 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). (57.) Id. at 2563 (Thomas, J., concurring). (58.) Yates v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1074, 1090 (2015) (Kagan, J., dissenting). (59......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 provisions
  • Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility
    • United States
    • Executive Office For Immigration Review,U.s. Citizenship And Immigration Services
    • Invalid date
    ...crime'' as a general matter. Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 141 (2008), abrogated on other grounds by Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). It takes ``a grisly toll on the Nation's roads, claiming thousands of lives, injuring many more victims, and inflicting billions of ......
  • Sentencing Guidelines for United States Courts
    • United States
    • Federal Register January 27, 2016
    • January 27, 2016
    ...amendment is informed by this public comment and case law, as well as the Supreme Court's recent decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), regarding the statutory definition of ``violent felony'' in 18 U.S.C. 924(e) (commonly referred to as the ``Armed Career Criminal Ac......
  • Sentencing Guidelines for United States Courts
    • United States
    • Federal Register August 17, 2015
    • August 17, 2015
    ...(June 25, 2015). The proposed amendment is also informed by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Johnson v. United States, __U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), relating to the statutory definition of ``violent felony'' in 18 U.S.C. 924(e), which held that an increased sentence under the ``r......