Man's 9-year sentence for possessing a gun upheld by 7th Circuit

June 5, 2017

An Indiana’s man sentence for possession of a firearm by a violent felon will stand after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Monday the federal and state definitions of “battery” and “force” work together to convict him of violent felonies.

In Charles B. Douglas v. United States of America, 17-1104, Charles Douglas pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm, a crime as a result of his earlier felony convictions. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana Judge Jon E. DeGuilio sentenced Douglas to 110 months after finding at least three of his 16 other felony convictions were violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

However, after the U.S. Supreme Court held the residual clause of that Act unconstitutionally vague, Douglas asked the district court to reduce his sentence under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, but DeGuilio held Douglas was properly classified as an armed career criminal. On appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Douglas argued the district court had misapplied the elements clause of the Act, as interpreted in Curtis Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133 (2010).

In a Monday opinion, 7th Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote the elements clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act classifies a felony as violent if it “has an element of the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” Similarly, at the time of Douglas’ convictions, Class C felony battery, the offense for which he was convicted on two counts, was defined as when a person “knowingly or intentionally touches another person in a rude, insolent, or angry manner” resulting in serious bodily injury.

The decision in Johnson held “force” is defined as something “capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person,” and Douglas argued on appeal that Indiana’s statute did not require the demonstration of such force. But the 7th Circuit disagreed, with Easterbrook writing, “force that actually causes injury necessarily was capable of causing that injury and thus satisfied the federal definition.”

Further, the 7th Circuit rejected Douglas’ argument that an offense cannot be a violent felony unless the offender intends to cause injury, holding instead that the intent element of Indiana’s battery law applies to the force, not the outcome. Thus, his sentence was affirmed.


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