Categorical Approach Wins: No Modified Categorical
Approach for “Missing” Element
Descamps v. United States, No.
11-9540 (June 20, 2013) (Kagan, Roberts, Scalia Kennedy, Ginsburg,
Breyer, Sotomayor, majority; Kennedy, concurrence; Thomas,
concurrence in judgment; Alito, dissent)
The Supreme Court once again reiterates its support of the
categorical approach, rejecting the Ninth Circuit’s attempt to allow judges to
look beyond the statute when a statute has a single, indivisible set of
The statute at issue in this
case is California’s burglary statute, California Penal Code section 459, which
does not have as an element unlawful entry, an element of the generic
definition of burglary.
The majority holds
firmly that the modified categorical approach is a tool that only applies to
divisible statutes to permit a court to determine which statutory phrase was
the basis for the conviction.
modified categorical approach does not provide an excuse to look at underlying
facts for indivisible statutes that are broader than the corresponding generic
Under the categorical approach,
the key is elements, not facts.
459 is indivisible and broader than generic burglary, it categorically is not a
“violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act.
Justice Thomas concurs in judgment, arguing that, pursuant
to Apprendi v. New Jersey
, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), any judicial fact-finding
that increases the statutory maximum violates the Sixth Amendment.
Justice Alito dissents, opting for “a more practical
reading” that would allow a sentencing enhancement “[w]hen it is clear that a
defendant necessarily admitted or the jury necessarily found that the defendant
committed the elements of” the generic offense.
How it becomes “clear” to the district court that the defendant
committed acts that are not elements of the charged offense is a little fuzzy,
but, then again, that’s the majority’s point.
Statutory Elements that Increase Mandatory Minimum Must
Be Submitted to Jury
Alleyne v. United States, No.
11-9335 (Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, majority for Parts
I, III-B, III-C, and IV; Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan, concurrence; Breyer,
concurrence in part; Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, dissent)
Pursuant to Apprendi v. New Jersey
, 530 U.S. 466
(2000), any fact—other than a conviction per Almendares-Torres
the Court did not address—that increases the mandatory minimum is an “element”
that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a 5-4 split, the Supreme Court extends the
Sixth Amendment to findings triggering mandatory minimums, thereby reversing Harris
v. United States
, 536 U.S. 545 (2002).
This case dealt with 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), carrying a firearm in relation
to a crime of violence.
The jury did not
find that Alleyne brandished the firearm, but the district court did, resulting
in an increase of the mandatory minimum from five years to seven years.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
So, now, brandishing and other “elements”
that result in an increased penalty range must be submitted to the jury.
Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence explains why overturning
such recent precedent is permissible under the Court’s stare decisis
Justice Breyer concurs and
states that he still disagrees with Apprendi
but can no longer abide the
incongruity of Harris
Justice Roberts dissents, reiterating the
reasoning of Harris
—that Alleyne could have gotten seven years and that
findings relating to mandatory minimums infringe on the judge’s discretion, not
on the jury trial right, so the Sixth Amendment does not apply.
Eroding the Fourth
Amendment: DNA Testing of Arrestees OK
Maryland v. King, No. 12-207 (June 3,
2013) (Kennedy, Roberts, Breyer,
Alito, majority; Scalia, Ginsburg,
Sotomayor, Kagan, dissent)
Anyone who does not like the idea of his DNA being taken for
a simple arrest should just skip to Justice Scalia’s dissent, delight in his
sharp criticism of the majority’s tortured reasoning, and then complain that
the majority won out.
As Justice Scalia
points out, the DNA collection permitted by the Maryland DNA Collection Act
does not aid in identification but is specifically designed to aid in the
investigation of crimes, for which suspicionless searches are prohibited.
Thanks to the majority, however, the Act is
declared constitutional even though—since all parties concede that Maryland
could have constitutionally taken King’s DNA after his conviction—it “manages
to burden uniquely the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment’s protections
ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the State’s
accusations,” those who are arrested and not convicted.
How does the majority justify such an intrusion for someone
who is only arrested, not convicted, of a crime? First, the majority places
great weight on the benefits to the criminal justice system and police
majority characterizes the cotton-swab intrusion in the arrestee’s mouth as
minimal—“a light touch on the inside of the cheek.”
Plus, since the arrestee had the misfortune
to be arrested, he has diminished expectations of privacy.
Next, the majority states that the search was
a tool, like fingerprints, to confirm the identity of the arrestee.
(Nevermind that King’s DNA was not tested
until months after his arrest and that the Act itself prohibits the DNA to be
examined until after the first scheduled arraignment date.)
Finally, the majority believes that the
requirement in the Act that “[o]nly DNA records that directly relate to the
identification of individuals shall be collected and stored” adequately
safeguards against using the DNA to find non-identity information.
This places a lot of trust in statutory
protections against invasion of privacy.
Applying SORNA to
Pre-SORNA Military Offender Is Necessary and Proper
United States v. Kebodeaux, No. 12-418
(June 24, 2013) (Breyer, Kennedy,
Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, majority; Roberts,
concurrence; Alito, concurrence; Scalia, dissent; Thomas, dissent with Scalia joining as to Parts I, II, and III-B)
The short story is that SORNA applies to someone convicted
of a sex offense by court martial pre-SORNA even though he never travelled
interstate and was not on supervised release at the time of SORNA’s enactment
The majority reasons that this
is a proper use of the Necessary and Proper Clause since Kebodeaux was subject
to a federal registration requirement prior to 2006 pursuant to the Wetterling
The majority characterizes SORNA as
merely modifying Kebodeaux’s duties under the Wetterling Act.
Chief Justice Roberts concurs separately to clarify that the
Constitution does not grant the federal government police powers (since the
majority gets very close to suggesting that it does), and that applying SORNA
to someone like Kebodeaux was a reasonable and necessary to execute Congress’s
power to regulate the conduct of members of the military.
Justice Scalia’s dissent challenges whether the Wetterling
Act’s registration requirement was itself a valid exercise of any federal power
and whether SORNA was actually designed to carry the Wetterling Act into
He concludes that the federal
power for the Wetterling Act was doubtful and that SORNA obviously was not
designed to carry the Wetterling Act into execution.
Justice Thomas’s dissent emphasizes the limited powers that
the Constitution bestows on the federal government and criticizes the
majority’s failure to identify an enumerated power that SORNA carries into
He concludes that Congress’s
power to make rules and regulations for the armed forces does not include sex offender
registration under SORNA.
Guidelines Are Subject to the Ex Post Facto
Peugh v. United States, No. 12-62 (June
10, 2013) (Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer,
Kagan, Kennedy [except for Part III-C], majority; Thomas, dissent joined by Roberts, Scalia, Alito as to Parts I and
II-C; Alito, dissent joined by
The majority concludes that, even though the Federal
Sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory, the Ex Post Facto
Clause applies to them.
A district court must apply the Guidelines in
effect on the date the defendant is sentenced unless the Guidelines on the
sentencing date violate the Ex Post Facto
If that’s the case, then the
district court must use the Guidelines in effect on the date the offense was
Here, Peugh was charged with nine counts of bank fraud.
Under the 1998 version of the Federal
Sentencing Guidelines, when the acts occurred, his guideline sentencing range
was 30 to 37 months.
Under the 2009
Guidelines, his advisory guideline range was 70 to 87 months.
Since he was sentenced under the 2009
Guidelines in violation of the Ex Post
Clause, the case was remanded.
Justice Thomas argues in his dissent that the retroactive
application of the 2009 Guidelines to Peugh did not alter his punishment or
violate the Ex Post Facto
since the Guidelines are not mandatory and sentencing remains subject to the
district court’s discretion.
for us defenders, he loses that argument.