Begay v. US, No. 06-11543.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBREYER
PartiesLarry BEGAY, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES.
Decision Date16 April 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-11543.

128 S.Ct. 1581
553 US 137

Larry BEGAY, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES.

No. 06-11543.

Supreme Court of United States.

Argued January 15, 2008.

Decided April 16, 2008.


128 S.Ct. 1582

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

128 S.Ct. 1583

Margaret A. Katze, Albuquerque, NM, for petitioner.

Leondra R. Kruger, for respondent.

Stephen P. McCue, Federal Public Defender, Margaret A. Katze, Counsel of Record, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Charles McCormack, Research and Writing Specialist, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Albuquerque, NM, for petitioner.

Paul D. Clement, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Alice S. Fisher, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Leondra R. Kruger, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Richard A. Friedman, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Armed Career Criminal Act imposes a special mandatory 15-year prison term upon felons who unlawfully possess a firearm and who also have three or more previous convictions for committing certain drug crimes or "violent felonies." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) (2000 ed., Supp. V). The question in this case is whether driving under the influence of alcohol is a "violent felony" as the Act defines it. We conclude that it is not.

I

A

Federal law prohibits a previously convicted felon from possessing a firearm. § 922(g)(1) (2000 ed.). A related provision provides for a prison term of up to 10 years for an ordinary offender. § 924(a)(2). The Armed Career Criminal Act imposes a more stringent 15-year mandatory minimum sentence on an offender who has three prior convictions "for a violent felony or a serious drug offense." § 924(e)(1) (2000 ed., Supp. V).

The Act defines a "violent felony" 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 a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." § 924(e)(2)(B) (2000 ed.).

We here consider whether driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), as set forth in New Mexico's criminal statutes, falls within the scope of the second clause.

B

The relevant background circumstances include the following: In September 2004, New Mexico police officers received a report that Larry Begay, the petitioner here, had threatened his sister and aunt with a rifle. The police arrested him. Begay subsequently conceded he was a felon and

128 S.Ct. 1584
pleaded guilty to a federal charge of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of § 922(g)(1). Begay's presentence report said that he had been convicted a dozen times for DUI, which under New Mexico's law, becomes a felony (punishable by a prison term of more than one year) the fourth (or subsequent) time an individual commits it. See N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 66-8-102(G) to (J) (Supp.2007). The sentencing judge consequently found that Begay had at least three prior convictions for a crime "punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year." 377 F.Supp.2d 1141, 1143 (NM 2005). The judge also concluded that Begay's "three felony DUI convictions involve conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Id., at 1145. The judge consequently concluded that Begay had three or more prior convictions for a "violent felony" and should receive a sentence that reflected a mandatory minimum prison term of 15 years. Ibid.

Begay, claiming that DUI is not a "violent felony" within the terms of the statute, appealed. The Court of Appeals panel by a vote of 2 to 1 rejected that claim. 470 F.3d 964 (C.A.10 2006). Begay sought certiorari, and we agreed to decide the question.

II

A

New Mexico's DUI statute makes it a crime (and a felony after three earlier convictions) to "drive a vehicle within the state" if the driver "is under the influence of intoxicating liquor" (or has an alcohol concentration of .08 or more in his blood or breath within three hours of having driven the vehicle resulting from "alcohol consumed before or while driving the vehicle"). §§ 66-8-102(A), (C). In determining whether this crime is a violent felony, we consider the offense generically, that is to say, we examine it in terms of how the law defines the offense and not in terms of how an individual offender might have committed it on a particular occasion. See Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 602, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 109 L.Ed.2d 607 (1990) (adopting this "categorical approach"); see also James v. United States, 550 U.S. ___, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 1597, 167 L.Ed.2d 532 (2007) (attempted burglary is a violent felony even if, on some occasions, it can be committed in a way that poses no serious risk of physical harm).

We also take as a given that DUI does not fall within the scope of the Act's clause (i) "violent felony" definition. DUI, as New Mexico defines it, nowhere "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i).

Finally, we assume that the lower courts were right in concluding that DUI involves conduct that "presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). Drunk driving is an extremely dangerous crime. In the United States in 2006, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes claimed the lives of more than 17,000 individuals and harmed untold amounts of property. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., Traffic Safety Facts, 2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment—Alcohol-Related Fatalities 1 (No. 810821, Aug. 2007), http://www-nrd.nhtsa. dot.gov/Pubs/810821.PDF (as visited Apr. 11, 2008, and available in Clerk of Court's case file). Even so, we find that DUI falls outside the scope of clause (ii). It is simply too unlike the provision's listed examples for us to believe that Congress intended the provision to cover it.

B

1

In our view, the provision's listed examples—burglary, arson, extortion, or

128 S.Ct. 1585
crimes involving the use of explosives— illustrate the kinds of crimes that fall within the statute's scope. Their presence indicates that the statute covers only similar crimes, rather than every crime that "presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). If Congress meant the latter, i.e., if it meant the statute to be all-encompassing, it is hard to see why it would have needed to include the examples at all. Without them, clause (ii) would cover all crimes that present a "serious potential risk of physical injury." Ibid. Additionally, if Congress meant clause (ii) to include all risky crimes, why would it have included clause (i)? A crime which has as an element the "use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force" against the person (as clause (i) specifies) is likely to create "a serious potential risk of physical injury" and would seem to fall within the scope of clause (ii)

Of course, Congress might have included the examples solely for quantitative purposes. Congress might have intended them to demonstrate no more than the degree of risk sufficient to bring a crime within the statute's scope. But were that the case, Congress would have likely chosen examples that better illustrated the "degree of risk" it had in mind. Our recent case, James v. United States—where we considered only matters of degree, i.e., whether the amount of risk posed by attempted burglary was comparable to the amount of risk posed by the example crime of burglary—illustrates the difficulty of interpreting the examples in this respect. Compare 550 U.S., at ___ _ ___, 127 S.Ct., at 1594-1597, with id., at ___, ___ _ ___, ___, 127 S.Ct., at 1601, 1603-1604, 1609 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). Indeed, the examples are so far from clear in respect to the degree of risk each poses that it is difficult to accept clarification in respect to degree of risk as Congress' only reason for including them. See id., at 1598-99 ("Congress provided examples that ... have little in common, most especially with respect to the level of risk of physical injury that they pose").

These considerations taken together convince us that, "`to give effect ... to every clause and word'" of this statute, we should read the examples as limiting the crimes that clause (ii) covers to crimes that are roughly similar, in kind as well as in degree of risk posed, to the examples themselves. Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 174, 121 S.Ct. 2120, 150 L.Ed.2d 251 (2001) (quoting United States v. Menasche, 348 U.S. 528, 538-539, 75 S.Ct. 513, 99 L.Ed. 615 (1955); some internal quotation marks omitted); see also Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 12, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004) (describing the need to interpret a statute in a way that gives meaning to each word).

The concurrence complains that our interpretive approach is insufficiently specific. See post, at 1589-1590 (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment). But the concurrence's own approach demands a crime-by-crime analysis, uses a standard of measurement (comparative degree of risk) that even the concurrence admits is often "unclear," post, at 1590, requires the concurrence to turn here to the still less clear "rule of lenity," post, at 1591, and, as we explain, is less likely to reflect Congress' intent. See, e.g., post, at 1590-1591 (recognizing inability to measure quantitative seriousness of risks associated with DUI).

The statute's history offers further support for our conclusion that the examples in clause (ii) limit the scope of the clause to crimes that are similar to the examples themselves. Prior to the enactment of the current language, the Act applied its enhanced sentence to offenders with "three

128 S.Ct. 1586
previous convictions for robbery or burglary." Taylor, 495 U.S., at 581, 110 S.Ct. 2143 (internal quotation...

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  • U.S. v. West, No. 06-4284.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 10, 2008
    ...18 U.S.C. § 924(e). To resolve this issue, we apply the Supreme Court's recent decision in Begay v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008), and affirm the district court's Second, West argues that in calculating his advisory guideline range under the sentencing ......
  • United States v. D.J.H., Case No. 16–CR–9–JPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • April 1, 2016
    ...interpreting the ACCA. See United States v. Johnson, 680 F.3d 966, 983 (7th Cir.2012) (citing Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 141, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008) ). At bottom, this methodology attempts to help district courts determine whether a predicate offense qualifies as ......
  • Welch v. U.S.A, No. 08-3108.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • May 4, 2010
    ...officer properly was classified as a violent felony in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008).IIANALYSISA.1. Initially, we note that we have held that deviations from the Sentencing Guidelines generally are not c......
  • United States v. Doyle, No. 10–5075.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 25, 2012
    ...extortion, or offenses involving the use of explosives. Young, 580 F.3d at 377 (citing Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 144–45, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008)). It was purposeful because the statute requires willful non-compliance; it was aggressive because a deliberate attempt......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
910 cases
  • U.S. v. West, No. 06-4284.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 10, 2008
    ...18 U.S.C. § 924(e). To resolve this issue, we apply the Supreme Court's recent decision in Begay v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008), and affirm the district court's Second, West argues that in calculating his advisory guideline range under the sentencing ......
  • United States v. D.J.H., Case No. 16–CR–9–JPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • April 1, 2016
    ...interpreting the ACCA. See United States v. Johnson, 680 F.3d 966, 983 (7th Cir.2012) (citing Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 141, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008) ). At bottom, this methodology attempts to help district courts determine whether a predicate offense qualifies as ......
  • Welch v. U.S.A, No. 08-3108.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • May 4, 2010
    ...officer properly was classified as a violent felony in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008).IIANALYSISA.1. Initially, we note that we have held that deviations from the Sentencing Guidelines generally are not c......
  • United States v. Doyle, No. 10–5075.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 25, 2012
    ...extortion, or offenses involving the use of explosives. Young, 580 F.3d at 377 (citing Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 144–45, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490 (2008)). It was purposeful because the statute requires willful non-compliance; it was aggressive because a deliberate attempt......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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