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Johnson v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

November 5, 2014, Argued, Reargued April 20, 2015; June 26, 2015, Decided

No. 13-7120

Opinion

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

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.

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 [***5]  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  [*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.  [**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, 564 U.S. 1, 131 S. Ct. 2267, 180 L. Ed. 2d 60(2011). In [***6]  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, with id., at ___, 131 S. Ct. 2267, 180 L. Ed. 2d 60 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

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135 S. Ct. 2551 *; 192 L. Ed. 2d 569 **; 2015 U.S. LEXIS 4251 ***; 83 U.S.L.W. 4576; 25 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 459

SAMUEL JAMES JOHNSON, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

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

United States v. Johnson, 526 Fed. Appx. 708, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 15618 (8th Cir. Minn., 2013)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

residuary clause, vagueness, shotgun, violent felony, cases, physical injury, potential risk, sawed-off, vagueness doctrine, categorical, sentence, unconstitutionally vague, ordinary case, burglary, weapon, qualify, short-barreled, convictions, possessing, decisions, void for vagueness, firearm, courts, substantive due process, enumerated offense, invalidate, nullify, due process, offenses, reasons

Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing Guidelines, Adjustments & Enhancements, Armed Career Criminals, Weapons Offenses, Possession of Weapons, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Governments, Legislation, Vagueness, Sentencing, Corrections, Modifications & Reductions, Due Process, Disruptive Conduct, Riot, Elements, Courts, Judicial Precedent