High Court to Revisit Enhanced Sentencing

     (CN) — The Supreme Court said Monday that it will decide whether possession of a sawed-off shotgun is a crime of violence under federal sentencing guidelines.
     Travis Beckles was convicted for unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun. His sentence was enhanced under career-offender provisions of U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
     The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer in Johnson v. United States that the Armed Career Criminal Act’s so-called “residual clause” is incompatible with the constitutional prohibition of vague criminal laws.
     The residual clause of the statute pertains to it description of any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year that “involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”
     “We are convinced that the indeterminacy of the wide-ranging inquiry required by the residual clause both denies fair notice to defendants and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges,” the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.
     Last September, the 11th Circuit upheld Beckles’ sentence on remand, after the high court’s Johnson ruling.
     “Beckles was sentenced properly as a career offender under [sentencing guidelines]. Beckles had at least two prior felony convictions for drug offenses. And Beckles’s offense of conviction unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun constitutes a ‘crime of violence,'” the three-page opinion states.
     The Atlanta-based appeals court found that Johnson did not control Beckles’ appeal because he was not sentenced under the ACCA’s residual clause.
     “Johnson says and decided nothing about career-offender enhancements under the Sentencing Guidelines or about the Guidelines commentary underlying Beckles’s status as a career-offender,” the unsigned ruling states.
     Beckles petitioned the Supreme Court for review in May, asking whether Johnson applies retroactively to challenges to federal sentences enhanced under the sentencing guideline defining a crime of violence.
     “There is a 3-2 split in the circuit courts on whether Johnson has been ‘made’ retroactively applicable to collateral cases in which the applicant is seeking relief from a sentence enhanced under the guidelines’s residual clause,” the petition states.
     Beckles also wants to know whether the mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun is still a crime of violence after the Johnson ruling.
     “Possession of a sawed-off shotgun contains no element of force, and is not an enumerated offense,” he argues.
     Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not comment on its decision to take up the case.

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