CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Previewing the Coming Term (Part 2): Johnson v. United States

[This is the second in a series of posts by CrimProf’s graduate fellow, Peter Stockburger (University of San Diego Class of 2009), previewing the criminal law and procedure cases scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this coming term. Peter excerpts and paraphrases the briefs of the parties to provide an overview of the cases and the advocates’ arguments. Links to the briefs of the parties appear at the end of the summary.]

Docket No: 08-6925
Case:  Johnson v. United States
Oral Argument Date:  October 6, 2009

Issue:  Whether a prior state conviction for battery is, in all cases, a “violent felony” under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) even when that offense does not have as an element the use or threatened use of physical force.

Factual and Procedural History:  Petitioner, Curtis Darnell Johnson, was convicted of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  He was subsequently sentenced under the ACCA (18 U.S.C. § 924(e)) because he had three prior convictions for violent felonies.  One of his prior violent felony convictions was for a battery in Florida, which would have been a misdemeanor if not for a state law enhancing it to a felony because of a prior battery conviction.

Petitioner appealed, contending the felony battery under Florida law was not a “violent felony” for the purposes of the ACCA.  The 11th Circuit rejected his argument, affirming his conviction and ruling that the elements of the crime of battery satisfied the definition of “violent” under the ACCA.  Petitioner filed a petition for certiorari, which was granted on February 23, 2009.  Oral argument has been scheduled for October 6, 2009.

Summary of Petitioner Argument:  According to Petitioner, a battery committed by the slightest non-consensual touching does not constitute a “violent felony” for the purposes of the ACCA.  A violent felony under the ACCA must be one that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.  In this case, Petitioner argues the battery of which he was previously convicted does not fit within this definition, that the 11th Circuit’s ruling should therefore be reversed and remanded for re-sentencing.

In the end, petitioner argues that because the Florida Supreme Court has held that simple battery does not contain “the use or threat of physical force” as an element of the crime, the Supreme Court should hold that the ACCA was improperly applied to his federal sentencing, and remand the case.

Summary of Respondent Argument:  According to Respondent, the 11th Circuit correctly concluded that Petitioner’s conviction for felony battery in violation of Florida law qualifies as a “violent felony” under the ACCA because battery has as an element the use of physical force against the person of another.

Respondent argues that Petitioner’s statutory interpretation of the ACCA’s definition of “violent felony” limits the meaning of “physical force” to violent and aggressive force, which is contrary to the intention of Congress.  In the end, according to Respondent, Petitioner’s assertions rest on an erroneous assumption – a “violent” crime must necessarily involve the use of “violent,” and potentially injurious, force.  

Additionally, Respondent argues that even if the Court were to accept Petitioner’s restrictive reading of the applicable statutes, the proper course would not be to reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, but rather to vacate the judgment and allow the court of appeals to consider whether, as the district court held, felony battery qualifies as a “violent felony” under the applicable statutory provisions.

Brief for Petitioner Curtis Darnell Johnson

Brief for Respondent United States of America

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