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SCOTUS Says: Snatching Is a Violent Felony

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By George Khoury, Esq. on January 15, 2019 2:20 PM

A recent 5 to 4 opinion of the High Court clarifies the Armed Career Criminal Act's definition of violent crimes to include crimes that involve the minimum amount of force needed to overcome resistance. The ACCA imposes harsher mandatory minimum sentences for offenders that have a history of committing violent crimes.

The case before the Justices involved Denard Stokeling, who pleaded guilty to charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Then received a 15-year minimum sentencing enhancement under the ACCA due to a prior robbery conviction. However, the enhancement was initially denied at the district court level where he was given a much shorter sentence, but after an appeal, which was just upheld by SCOTUS, he received a 15-year sentence under the ACCA guidelines.

Of Facts and Laws

While the majority opinion and dissenting opinion both focus on the case law and the legal arguments, each clearly showing the support for their position, the facts of Stokeling's underlying robbery charge seem to have been ignored in the shuffle and reporting (though they are described right in the opinion).

While the dissent seems to lament that under the majority's opinion, simple pick-pockets or purse-snatchers will be considered violent felons, Stokeling wasn't a run-by necklace snatcher. He held the woman by the neck while taking it off her. So while, in theory, the thought of pickpocketing seems non-violent, this case wasn't actually about pickpockets.

However, as the High Court held, when it comes to ACCA, robbery crimes that require the robber to overcome a victim's resistance, will trigger the sentencing enhancement.

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