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Law School Case Brief

Shepard v. United States - 544 U.S. 13, 125 S. Ct. 1254 (2005)

Rule:

Enquiry under the Armed Career Criminal Act to determine whether a plea of guilty to burglary defined by a nongeneric statute necessarily admitted elements of the generic offense is limited to the terms of the charging document, the terms of a plea agreement or transcript of colloquy between judge and defendant in which the factual basis for the plea was confirmed by the defendant, or to some comparable judicial record of this information.

Facts:

The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C.S. § 924(e), provided a sentence enhancement for a defendant who was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm under § 922(g), and had three prior convictions for violent felonies such as burglary. In Taylor v United States (1990) 495 U.S. 575, 109 L. Ed. 2d 607, the United States Supreme Court held that the ACCA made burglary a violent felony with respect to only "generic burglary," that is, burglary committed in a building or enclosed space but not in a boat or motor vehicle; and (2) a court sentencing under the ACCA could look to statutory elements, charging documents, and jury instructions to determine whether an earlier conviction after trial was for generic burglary.

After defendant Reginald Shepard pleaded guilty in the federal district court to a violation of § 922(g)(1), the federal Ggovernment sought to increase his sentence pursuant to the ACCA, on the ground that the defendant had had four prior convictions entered upon guilty pleas under the Massachusetts burglary statute. The government urged the district court to examine the police reports as a way of telling whether Shepard's prior guilty pleas went to "generic burglaries," notwithstanding that the complaints in question had tracked the more expansive definition of burglary under Massachusetts law, which defined encompassed unlawful entries into "buildings, vehicles, or vessels." The district court, although sentencing the defendant somewhat above the standard level under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines refused to consider the police reports, and rejected the government's request for an enhancement under the ACCA. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in vacating the sentence and remanding the case, concluded that police reports and complaint applications could count as sufficiently reliable evidence for determining whether a guilty plea constituted an admission to a generically violent crime for purposes of the ACCA. On remand, however, the District Court--noting that the defendant had denied that the police reports had been part of the plea process--ordered the original sentence to be reimposed. The Court of Appeals, in once again vacating and ordering a remand, observed that the defendant had never seriously disputed that he had in fact broken into buildings as described in the police reports or complaint applications at issue. Shepard's petition for certiorari was granted to address divergent decisions in the United States Courts of Appeals.

Issue:

Could a sentencing court could look to police reports or complaint applications to determine whether an earlier guilty plea necessarily admitted, and supported a conviction for, generic burglary?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that a sentencing court was not permitted to look to police reports or complaint applications to determine whether an earlier guilty plea necessarily admitted and supported a conviction for generic burglary. According to the Court, the sentencing court's inquiry to determine whether a plea of guilty to burglary defined by a nongeneric--that is, more expansive--statute necessarily admitted elements of the generic offense was generally limited to examining the statutory definition of the offense in question, the charging document, a written plea agreement, the transcript of a colloquy between the trial judge and the accused in which the factual basis for the plea was confirmed by the accused, and any explicit factual finding by the trial judge to which the accused assented.

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