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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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