The Champion

August 2016 , Page 40 

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Litigating Challenges to the Amended Definition of ‘Crime of Violence’ in § 4B1.2(a)

By Amy Baron-Evans, Jennifer Niles Coffin, and Lex Coleman

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States1 that the “residual clause” in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is void for vagueness.2 Under that clause, a prior conviction counted as a “violent felony” — and thus as a predicate for the ACCA’s enhanced 15-year minimum sentence — if the court determined that the prior offense “involve[d] conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”3 Because this language “both denies fair notice to defendants and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges,” the Court held, “[i]ncreasing a defendant’s sentence under the clause denies due process of law.”4  

For Samuel Johnson, this holding meant that his prior conviction for possession of a sawed-off shotgun — which was counted as a “violent felony” under the residual clause — is not an ACCA predicate. The same will be true for a wide variety of convictions for offenses previously deemed “violent felonies” under the residual clause,

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