Supreme Court Backs Expansive Burglary Definition in Career-Criminal Case

(CN) – Holding that the burglary of trailer homes qualifies as a violent felony, the Supreme Court sided Monday with prosecutors who sought to impose sentencing enhancements in a pair of gun cases.

“An offender who breaks into a mobile home, an RV, a camping tent, a vehicle, or another structure that is adapted for or customarily used for lodging runs a similar or greater risk of violent confrontation,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the unanimous court.

“Although, as respondents point out, the risk of violence is diminished if, for example, a vehicle is only used for lodging part of the time, we have no reason to believe that Congress intended to make a part-time/full-time distinction,” the ruling continues. “After all, a burglary is no less a burglary because it took place at a summer home during the winter, or a commercial building during a holiday.”

Monday’s ruling came eight months after the Supreme Court consolidated two Armed Career Criminal Act cases from Arkansas and Tennessee.

In the Arkansas case, Jason Daniel Sims appealed his ACCA sentencing enhancement after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Though Sims had two prior convictions for residential burglaries, he argued that the Arkansas residential burglary offense is categorically broader than generic burglary.

Likewise in the Tennessee case, Victor Stitt was designated an armed career criminal in light of his nine prior “violent felony convictions,” including six for aggravated burglary.

Both managed last year to have their sentences vacated, however, after appeals courts found that their prior crimes did not fall within the scope of the word “burglary.”

The Supreme Court vacated those decisions Monday, deeming the sentencing enhancements proper.

Separately the justices also granted a writ of certiorari this morning to Vietnam war veteran James Kisor in connection to his dispute over disability benefits.

Suffering from depression about 20 years after he served on active duty in the Marine Corps, Kisor first filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1982.

In his examination at the regional office in Portland, Oregon, Kisor revealed that his company suffered 13 casualties after an ambush by the Viet Cong during Operation Harvest Moon.

Rather than post-traumatic stress disorder, however, the examiner diagnosed Kisor with intermittent explosive disorder and atypical personality disorder, and the office denied his claim.

Kisor did not seek to reopen his claim until 2006, at which point he presented evidence that a psychiatrist had diagnosed him with PTSD. This time the office granted Kisor service connection for PTSD, but it made June 5, 2006, the effective date of his 50 percent disability rating.

An ensuing challenge led the office to increase Kisor’s rating to 100 percent, but it refused to give him an effective date earlier than 2006.

Represented by Paul Whitfield Hughes with Mayer Brown, Kisor petitioned the Supreme Court for relief after both the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Federal Circuit denied him relief.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment Monday in taking up Kisor’s case. Earlier this year the Federal Circuit was divided in an order that denied Kisor an en banc rehearing.

Though Kisor’s is the only case that the Supreme Court agreed to take up Monday, it also granted a writ of certiorari Friday to the Dutra Group.

In the underlying case, Christopher Batterton sought punitive damages under the Jones Act, claiming that an injury he suffered while working as a seaman was due in part to Dutra’s failure to provide a seaworthy vessel.

Though the Ninth Circuit supported Batterton’s claim for punitive damages, Dutra argued in its petition that this ruling conflicts with the decisions of “several other appellate courts, most notably that of the en banc Fifth Circuit.”

Dutra is represented in the case Seth Waxman of WilmerHale. Batterton is represented by Preston Easley of San Pedro, California.

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