586 U.S. ___ (2019).

A 2019 United States Supreme Court on the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924 in which the Court held that the ACCA’s elements clause encompasses a felony conviction for robbery that requires the defendant to overcome the victim’s resistance.

The ACCA provides for a mandatory fifteen-year sentence for people convicted of possessing firearms who have three prior convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense.”  The term “violent felony” is defined in the ACCA as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year that (i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”  18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B).

In this case, Stokeling pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition after been convicted of a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  After considering his prior criminal history, including a conviction in Florida for robbery, the probation officer recommended the mandatory 15-year sentence under the ACCA.  Stokeling, however, objected that his conviction for the Florida robbery did not constitute conviction for  “a violent felony” under the ACCA.  Specifically, he argued that the Florida robbery did not have “as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force” and, therefore, it did not qualify under the “elements clause” of the ACCA. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i), supra.

The district court agreed with Stokeling.  It reviewed the facts specific to Stokeling’s robbery case and concluded that, although Stokeling “‘grabbed [the victim] by the neck and tried to remove her necklaces’” as she “‘held onto’” them, his actions did not “justify an enhancement.”

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court.

The Court determined that the district court erred in making its own factual determination about the level of violence involved in the particular robbery committed by Stokeling.  The Court instead applied a categorical approach to the elements clause of ACCA and ruled that since the offense of robbery requires the criminal to overcome the victim’s resistance and necessitates the use of physical force, a prior felony conviction for robbery categorically qualifies as a predicate violent felony under the elements clause of the ACCA.

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