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Begay v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

January 15, 2008, Argued; April 16, 2008, Decided

No. 06-11543

Opinion

 [**1583]   [*139]  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  [****5] drug crimes or "violent felon[ies]." 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.

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

 [*140]  "(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  [****6] within the scope of the second clause.

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 [**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  [***496] 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  [****7] receive a sentence that reflected a mandatory minimum prison term of 15 years. Ibid.

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553 U.S. 137 *; 128 S. Ct. 1581 **; 170 L. Ed. 2d 490 ***; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 3474 ****; 76 U.S.L.W. 4228; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 188

LARRY BEGAY, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT.

United States v. Begay, 470 F.3d 964, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 30494 (10th Cir. N.M., 2006)

Disposition: 470 F.3d 964, Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

burglary, physical injury, convictions, felony, potential risk, violent, aggressive, residuary clause, drunk driving, extortion, arson, offenses, violent felony, gun, offender, alcohol, degree of risk, driving, serious risk, qualifies, Annual, enumerated crimes, alcohol-related, sentence, murders, driving under the influence, enumerated offense, crashes, firearm, armed career criminal

Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing Guidelines, Adjustments & Enhancements, Armed Career Criminals, Possession of Weapons, Unregistered Firearm, Penalties, Elements, Vehicular Crimes, Driving Under the Influence, General Overview