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Recent Decisions Can Impact the Defense of a Federal Criminal Case

Kish Law LLC

Readers know that from my law office here in Atlanta I work on and travel around the country to places where I represent individuals and companies accused of federal crimes.  I also pontificate on occasion about the importance of keeping current in order to do this kind of work.  A case issued three days ago by the Supreme Court reminded me of this need for lawyers to keep up with recent developments in the law when defending their clients.

The case from the Supreme Court was United States v. Davis  which was the latest in a series of decisions in which the highest court in the land tried to figure out what Congress meant when the legislature enacted a series of tough-on-crime laws back in the 1990’s   These laws either impose more severe punishments for people with prior serious crimes, or on people who use guns in current serious crimes.  These laws all have a common feature; an attempt to provide a very broad definition of what is called either a “crime of violence” or “violent crime.” The problem in all of these laws is that in trying to create this broad definition, Congress failed to really say anything specific in what are called the “residual clauses” from these statutes.

In the Davis case, the Supreme Court had to figure out the meaning of the law which said a “crime of violence” is a felony “that by its nature, involves substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” Congresss gave no guidance as to when a crime “by its nature” might “involve” a “substantial risk” that physical force “may” be used not just in the crime, but “in the course” of committing the offense.  Whew!  That’s a lot of uncertain and undefined terms!  No surprise, the Court held this is unconstitutionally vague.