Saturday, December 06, 2014

Case o' The Week: Prince Pays for royal mistake - Prince and ACCA predicates

 Q: What could be worse, than accidentally shooting oneself with a revolver?
 A: Getting fifteen years in custody, once you’re released from the hospital.
United States v. Prince, 2014 WL 6610329, (9th Cir. Nov. 24, 2014), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Christen, joined by Judges Gould and Wardlaw. Hard-fought appeal by AFD Matthew Campbell, Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington & Idaho.

Facts: Convicted of 18 USC § 922(g)(1), Prince was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act to fifteen years of custody. Id. at *1. (He was arrested after accidentally shooting himself. Id.). He did not object at sentencing. Id. Prince appealed his sentence.

Issue(s): “Prince challenges the district court’s conclusion that his prior California attempted robbery conviction was a ‘violent felony’ under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) – (2)(B).” Id.

Held:The district court did not err by ruling that attempt to commit robbery under California Penal Code § 211 qualifies as a ‘violent felony’ for purposes of the ACCA because attempted robbery presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another, and because it is roughly similar, in kind as well as in degree of risk posed, to burglary and extortion, both of which are listed as violent felonies under the ACCA.” Id. “Applying [the two-step framework from United States v. Chandler, 743 F.3d 648, 650 (9th Cir. 2014)], we conclude that attempted robbery under California Penal Code § 211 qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA’s residual clause.” Id. at *2 (emphasis added).

Of Note: Judge Christen starts with the Chandler decision, that had held that the Nevada crime of conspiracy to commit robbery qualified as a “violent felony” for Career Offender because it was similar to extortion and burglary. Id. at *3-*4. The California statute, she concedes, allows a robbery without directly taking from a person. Id. at *4. It is close enough, though, because the non-traditional robbery aspects of a California robbery meet the definition of generic extortion (obtaining something from another induced by the wrongful use of fear or threats). By comparing the California attempted robbery statute into two generic crimes – robbery, and extortion – the Court concludes there are analogous-enough risks to satisfy the residual clause. Id. at *5.

How to Use: It is not good, but it is good to know: bad for Career Offender often is bad for ACCA. In Prince, the Court looked to its earlier Chandler decision and its analysis of “conspiracy to commit robbery,” for the analytical structure on this ACCA question. A Career Offender “crime of violence” refers to a guideline definition, USSG  § 4B1.2(a),  while ACCA “violent felony” refers to a statutory definition in 18 USC § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). The two definitions are close enough for the Court in Prince, which uses the guideline definition to guide its analysis on this statutory definition question. Id. at *2 & n.2. Tricky business, this. The take-away is to check Career Offender authority before breathing a sigh of relief when a potential ACCA prior has yet to be tagged as a “violent felony” predicate.
For Further Reading: Fifteen year mandatory minimum sentence, for a guy who was arrested after accidentally shooting himself? The mandatory-minimum provision of the ACCA is too harsh, and the definitions of crime of violence too vague and confusing, for just sentencing. 
  Don’t you wish the Sentencing Commission would take a hard look at mandatory minimum sentences, and recommended statutory changes to Congress to deal with the mess of “crimes of violence” definitions and predicate convictions in general? Wish granted: mand mins and prior convictions are two of the Commissions’ priorities for the 2014-15 Amendment Cycle. See Final Priorities for Amendment Cycle, available here

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender Northern District of California. Website at


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