__ U.S. __ (2016), 14-8358, Lockhart v. United States

Docket Nº:14-8358
Citation:__ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 958, 194 L.Ed.2d 48, 84 U.S.L.W. 4112
Opinion Judge:SOTOMAYOR, JUSTICE
Party Name:AVONDALE LOCKHART, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES
Attorney:Edward S. Zas argued the cause for petitioner. Ann O'Connell argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and ALITO, JJ., joined. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined.
Case Date:March 01, 2016
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4). Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his PSR concluded that he was subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement provided in U.S.S.G. 2252(b)(2), which is triggered by prior state convictions for crimes “relating to aggravated... (see full summary)

 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2016)

136 S.Ct. 958, 194 L.Ed.2d 48, 84 U.S.L.W. 4112, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 9

AVONDALE LOCKHART, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES

No. 14-8358

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 2016

Argued: November 3, 2015

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

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

[136 S.Ct. 959] [194 L.Ed.2d 50] Petitioner Avondale Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in [136 S.Ct. 960] violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4). Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his presentence report concluded that he was subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement provided in § 2252(b)(2), which is triggered by, inter alia, prior state convictions for crimes " relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward." Lockhart argued that the limiting phrase " involving a minor or ward" applied to all three state crimes, so his prior conviction did not trigger the enhancement. Disagreeing, the District Court applied the mandatory minimum. The Second Circuit affirmed.

Held :

Lockhart's prior conviction is encompassed by § 2252(b)(2). Pp. 2-15.

(a) A natural reading of the text supports that conclusion. The " rule of the last antecedent," a canon of statutory interpretation stating that " a limiting clause or phrase . . . should ordinarily be read as modifying only the noun or phrase that it immediately follows," Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 26, 124 S.Ct. 376, 157 L.Ed.2d 333, clarifies that the phrase " involving a minor or ward" modifies [194 L.Ed.2d 51] only the immediately preceding noun phrase " abusive sexual conduct" and that the phrases " aggravated sexual abuse" and " sexual abuse" are not so restricted. The rule " can . . . be overcome by other indicia of meaning," ibid., but § 2252(b)(2)'s context reinforces its application in this case. Pp. 2-5.

(b) Section 2252(b)(2)'s enhancement can also be triggered by, inter alia, a prior federal sexual abuse offense enumerated in Chapter 109A of the Federal Criminal Code. Interpreting § 2252(b)(2) using the " rule of the last antecedent," the headings in Chapter 109A mirror precisely the order, precisely the divisions, and nearly precisely the words used to describe the state sexual-abuse predicates. Applying the modifier " involving a minor or ward" to all three items in § 2252(b)(2)'s list, by contrast, would require this Court to interpret the state predicates in a way that departs from the federal template. If Congress had intended that result, it is doubtful that Congress would have followed so closely the structure and language of Chapter 109A. Pp. 5-7.

(c) Lockhart's counterarguments are rejected. Pp. 7-14.

(1) Porto Rico Railway, Light & Power Co. v. Mor, 253 U.S. 345, 40 S.Ct. 516, 64 L.Ed. 944, United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 92 S.Ct. 515, 30 L.Ed.2d 488, and Jama v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 543 U.S. 335, 125 S.Ct. 694, 160 L.Ed.2d 708, do not require this Court to apply Lockhart's countervailing series-qualifier principle. In those cases, the Court simply observed that the last-antecedent rule may be overcome by contextual indicia of meaning. Lockhart's attempts to identify such indicia are unavailing. He claims that the state predicates are so similar that a limiting phrase could apply equally to all three. But by transforming a list of separate predicates into a set of near-synonyms, Lockhart's reading results in too much redundancy and risks running headlong into the rule against superfluity. Pp. 7-10.

(2) Lockhart contends that the existence of other disparities between § 2252(b)(2)'s state and federal sexual-abuse predicates indicate that parity was not Congress' concern. However, this Court's construction relies on contextual cues particular to the sexual-abuse predicates, not on a general assumption that [136 S.Ct. 961] Congress sought full parity between all state and federal predicates. Pp. 10-11.

(3) The provision's legislative history " hardly speaks with [a] clarity of purpose," Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 483, 71 S.Ct. 456, 95 L.Ed. 456, and does nothing to explain why Congress would have wanted to structure § 2252(b)(2) to treat state and federal predicates differently. Pp. 11-14.

(4) Finally, Lockhart suggests the rule of lenity is triggered here, where applying his series-qualifier principle would lead to an alternative construction of § 2252(b)(2). The rule of lenity is used to resolve ambiguity only when the ordinary canons have revealed no satisfactory construction. Here, however, the rule of the last antecedent [194 L.Ed.2d 52] is well supported by context, and Lockhart's alternative is not. P. 14.

749 F.3d 148, affirmed.

Edward S. Zas argued the cause for petitioner.

Ann O'Connell argued the cause for respondent.

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

OPINION

SOTOMAYOR, JUSTICE

Defendants convicted of possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4) are subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and an increased maximum sentence if they have " a prior conviction . . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward." § 2252(b)(2).

The question before us is whether the phrase " involving a minor or ward" modifies all items in the list of predicate crimes (" aggravated sexual abuse," " sexual abuse," and " abusive sexual conduct" ) or only the one item that immediately precedes it (" abusive sexual conduct" ). Below, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit joined several other Courts of Appeals in holding that it modifies only " abusive sexual conduct." The Eighth Circuit has reached the contrary result. We granted certiorari to resolve that split. 575 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2350, 192 L.Ed.2d 143 (2015). We affirm the Second Circuit's holding that the phrase " involving a minor or ward" in § 2252(b)(2) modifies only " abusive sexual conduct."

I

In April 2000, Avondale Lockhart was convicted of sexual abuse in the first degree under N.Y. Penal Law Ann. § 130.65(1) (West Cum. Supp. 2015). The [136 S.Ct. 962] crime involved his then 53-year-old girlfriend. Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), in No. 11-CR-231-01, p. 13, ¶ ¶ 47-48. Eleven years later, Lockhart was indicted in the Eastern District of New York for attempting to receive child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) and for possessing child pornography in violation of § 2252(a)(4)(B). Lockhart pleaded guilty to the possession offense and the Government dismissed the receipt offense.

Lockhart's presentence report calculated a guidelines range of 78 to 97 months for the possession offense. But the report also concluded that Lockhart was subject to § 2252(b)(2)'s mandatory minimum because his prior New York abuse conviction related " to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward." PSR ¶ ¶ 87-88.

Lockhart objected, arguing that the statutory phrase " involving a minor or ward" applies to all three listed crimes: " aggravated sexual abuse," " sexual abuse," and " abusive sexual conduct." He therefore contended that his prior conviction for sexual abuse involving an adult fell outside the enhancement's ambit. The District Court rejected Lockhart's argument and applied the mandatory minimum. The Second Circuit affirmed his sentence. 749 F.3d 148 (CA2 2014).

[194 L.Ed.2d 53] II

Section 2252(b)(2) reads in full: " Whoever violates, or attempts or conspires to violate [18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both, but . . . if such person has a prior conviction under this chapter, chapter 71, chapter 109A, or chapter 117, or under section 920 of title 10 (article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), or under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward, or the production, possession, receipt, mailing, sale, distribution, shipment, or transportation of child pornography, such person shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not less than 10 years nor more than 20 years."

This case concerns that provision's list of state sexual-abuse...

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