Chambers vs. U.S.: The Begay case sequel?

With all the [continued] Baze publicity, going largely unnoticed was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week to grant cert in Chambers v. U.S. (06-11206). Just five days after the Court ruled in Begay v. U.S.the Supremes decided they will again interpret the “otherwise” clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act’s 15-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Recall at issue in Begay was whether felony DUI is a “violent felony” for purposes of the ACCA’s 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. The statute (and clause) at issue in both cases is 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), which includes an offense that “is burglary, arson, or extortion, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” (emphasis added).

In Begay, the Court found that in order to give effect to every word in the definition, the “otherwise clause” must be interpreted to include only offenses that “are roughly similar, in kind as well as in degree of risk posed, to the” listed offenses. The Court further stated:

The listed crimes all typically involve purposeful, “violent,” and “aggressive” conduct.  And such crimes are “characteristic of the armed career criminal, the eponym of the statute.”

DUI doesn’t fit this standard:

By way of contrast, statutes that forbid driving under the influence, such as the statute before us, typically do not insist on purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct; rather, they are, or are most nearly comparable to, crimes that impose strict liability, criminalizing conduct in respect to which the offender need not have had any criminal intent at all.

Chambers now asks the Court whether a failure to report to prison that leads to a conviction for escape can be the basis for enhanced sentencing under the ACCA. SCOTUSblog notes the appeal in Chambers v. U.S. states the lower courts are split on whether a prior conviction for escape, when it’s based upon a failure to report for confinement, is a violent felony. “There is a 10-2 split of authority on whether all escapes should be treated as violent crimes for purposes of career offender status.”

The Court will hear Chambers v. U.S. in the next Term, starting Oct. 6.