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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Begay v. United States: DUI not a Violent Felony under ACCA

ACCA imposes a special mandatory 15-year prison term upon felons who unlawfully possess a firearm and who have three or more prior convictions for certain drug crimes or "violent felonies." Begay had 12 prior convictions for driving while intoxicated in violation of New Mexico law. The district court applied three of these convictions as a predicate for an enhanced ACCA sentence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that felony DUI under New Mexico law is not a "violent felony" for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court held that the determinative question is not how the defendant may have committed the prior crimes, but rather how the statute defines it. Even if DUI involves conduct that presents serious risk of physical injury to another, it is too unlike the example crimes enumerated in ACCA – burglary, arson, extortion, and crimes involving explosives– to be included under the residual clause of ACCA. Moreover, DUI differs in an important respect from the example crimes, in that it does not involve purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct that is the centerpiece of the example crimes. Justice Scalia’s concurrence highlights that the analytical framework of this decision differs from the Court’s expansively inclusive residual clause analysis last term in James v. United States, 550 U.S. ___ (2007) (holding attempted burglary a violent felony under ACCA’s residual clause), from which he had dissented.