The Week Ahead: Week of October 8, 2018

The Court will be back in session Tuesday after taking Columbus Day off, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh will be on the bench. Three cases are on the Court’s Tuesday docket, all presenting questions about the interpretations of crimes under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). The ACCA mandates prison sentences from 15 years to life for those convicted of certain firearm possession offenses normally subject to a 10-year maximum.The ACCA’s prison sentence mandate applies to those felons guilty of possessing a firearm with least three prior convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense. The three parties in Tuesday’s cases with criminal histories are all in danger of the ACCA’s applying to their prison sentences if their prior convictions meet certain definitions under the ACCA.  

First the Court will hear Stokeling v. United States. That case presents the question of whether the Florida offense of unarmed robbery is a qualifying “violent felony” under the ACCA. The state robbery offense includes “as an element” the common law requirement of overcoming “victim resistance.” Florida appellate courts have specifically interpreted the offense to require only slight force to overcome resistance. The ACCA defines “violent felony” as an offense that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.”

Also on Tuesday, the Court will hear United States v. Stitt and United States v. Sims. Both cases present the question of whether burglary of a non-permanent or mobile structure that is adapted or used for overnight accommodation can qualify as “burglary” under the ACCA. Victor Stitt was convicted of six burglaries in Tennessee, among other crimes. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Johnson v. United States invalidated the violent-felony status of three of Stitt’s other convictions. Jason Sims was convicted of burglary in Arkansas. Both men were later convicted under federal law of being felons in possession of a firearm. ACCA might apply to both men’s sentences. T

Wednesday the Court will hear Nielsen v. Preap, which presents the question of whether a criminal alien becomes exempt from mandatory detention under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c) if, after the alien is released from criminal custody, the Department of Homeland Security does not take him into immigration custody immediately. Mony Preap, whose parents fled Cambodia, was born in a refugee camp. He has lived legally in the United States since 1981. He was convicted in 2006 of marijuana possession, but federal authorities did not pick him up after he was sentenced to time served. He served another criminal sentence for battery in 2013, which is not deportable. He was detained for months, but was released. The government placed him in removal proceedings long after his release from prison. The government argued that the mandatory detention provision of Section 1226(c) covered the applicable grounds of removal. The Washington Post wrote about the high stakes of this case, given President Trump’s promise to deport more noncitizens who have committed deportable crimes. Nine groups have submitted amici curiae, six on behalf of Preap, including former general counsels of Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Naturalization Services.

Also on Wednesday the Court will hear Air and Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries, which presents the question of whether products-liability defendants be held liable under maritime law for injuries caused by products that they did not make, sell, or distribute. Air and Liquid Systems Corp and the other defendants manufactured and sold equipment that exposed respondent Navy sailors (led by John DeVries) to asbestos when they used it. The equipment did not include asbestos insulation when the petitioner companies sold it to third-party companies who later installed the asbestos. But the petitioners designed their equipment in such a way that it would not have functioned safely without asbestos insulation. SCOTUSblog has a preview.

The Court will also issue orders on Tuesday from last Friday’s Conference, and it will hold Conference this coming Friday as well.

Written by ISCOTUS fellow Bridget Flynn, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, edited by Matthew Webber, ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and overseen by Carolyn Shapiro, ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member.


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