Supreme Court on firearm mandatory sentencing
Decision in Begay v. US is here. Federal law imposes a 15 year mandatory sentence for a felon in possession of a gun if he has three prior felony convictions of a certain type, i.e., certain drug offenses, or violent felonies (defined in statute). Begay turned out to have had an impressive 12 DUI convictions, and under state law the 4th and all later ones were felonies. The district court and 10th Circuit held that the DUIs were violent felonies within the meaning of the statute, which defines the term to include a felony that "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."
The Supreme Court reverses: the def. of violent felony hinges upon how state law defines the felony, not on the manner in which it happens to be committed. DUI does not require that the driver present a serious potential risk in order to be convicted. If the statute were read that broadly, it would include things like discharging pollution, etc.
Breyer writes, for five Justices. Scalia concurs, saying that he'd construe the "otherwise" clause in light of the felonies which are listed in statute, as applying only to offences at least as dangerous as the least dangerous listed one.
Alito dissents, joined by Thomas and Souter. His approach is textual: the "otherwise" clause is what it says, and this offense fits its definition.
Has SCOTUS ever upheld or reversed a state law mandating a longer sentence for a felony (murder, rape, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon) committed with a firearm as opposed to the same felony committed with a different weapon, say, a knife?
Posted by: Turk Turon at April 16, 2008 10:50 AM
I wonder hopw the court might rule over misdemeanors that are being upgraded to felonies in state and municipal bodies simply to garner three strikes or abrogate gun rights.
Posted by: tom gunn at April 16, 2008 12:24 PM