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SCOTUS hears Indiana case

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

Indiana Federal Community Defender Bill Marsh made his debut appearance before the nation’s highest court on Jan. 12, arguing an Indiana case that questions whether vehicular flight from police is considered “violent” and warrants a higher sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The case is Marcus Sykes v. U.S.A., No. 09-11311, and it comes from the Southern District of Indiana with the potential to impact many other pending cases inside and outside the state.

U.S. Judge Larry McKinney rejected Sykes’ argument that fleeing police in a vehicle wasn’t “violent,” and the judge applied an enhancement to reach a 188-month prison sentence. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling affirmed the enhancement decision in March 2010, finding that it is considered a “violent felony” as it had previously decided on other cases and was dictated by SCOTUS precedent.

Representing Sykes, Marsh is arguing that the ACCA-applied conviction for vehicular flight was inconsistent with the SCOTUS ruling in U.S. v. Chambers, 555 U.S. 129 S. Ct. 687 (2009), which held that failing to report for parole was separate and distinct from escaping from a penal institution, and therefore falls outside of the category of violent felonies listed in the ACCA. Marsh is relying on a distinction the court made in Chambers, that fleeing from police is a distinct category of flight under Indiana Code § 35-44-3.

Transcripts of the arguments show the justices expressed some hesitation in finding this offense falls under the ACCA use of “violent” felony. Justices questioned both sides about various types of police chases and whether the degree of a chase dictates whether it’s considered “violent,” and several of the jurists pointed to examples from Indiana cases and hypothetical scenarios.

Justice Antonin Scalia noted that he doesn’t think fast fleeing is such a violent activity, saying at one point to U.S. Assistant Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall: “Do words mean nothing? I mean, we’re talking about a violent felony. That’s what the federal law requires. And you want us to hold that failing to stop when a police officer tells you to stop is a violent felony. That seems to me a big leap.”

He wondered whether speeding might be considered a “violent felony” under this statute, and Justice Elena Kagan asked whether drag racing or running away on foot might meet that definition.

Chief Justice John Roberts also noted that a person’s simple “running away” isn’t aggressive, though it may be considered “purposeful” and could even be considered “violent” if it causes injury or death that isn’t intended.

“Certainly the other option is to turn and confront, and he doesn’t want to,” the chief justice said. “There’s nothing aggressive about running away. Those are the three words, ‘purposeful, violent, and aggressive.’ I’ll give you purposeful, I’ll give you violent, but aggressive?”

The SCOTUS is likely to rule on this case by the time its term ends this summer, but it could also delay a decision until after it hears McNeill v. U.S.A., No. 10-5258, a case that also involves ACCA.

Rehearing "Crime of violence?" IL Dec. 8-21, 2010
 

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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