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Supreme Court Holds Failure to Report to Prison Not a Violent Felony Under ACCA

Supreme Court Holds Failure to Report to Prison Not a Violent Felony Under ACCA

A defendant’s failure to surrender to serve a prison sentence is not a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), the U.S. Supreme Court held on January 13, 2009.

Deondery Chambers pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing, the government asked for a 15-year mandatory prison term, arguing that Chambers had three prior convictions that qualified under the ACCA as a “serious drug offense” or “violent felony.”

One of the convictions the government relied on, for “failing to report to a penal institution,” stemmed from Chambers’ failure to show up for weekend confinement at a county jail as part of a 1998 robbery and battery conviction. The U.S. Attorney’s office argued that Chambers’ failure to report to prison constituted a violent felony.

Over Chambers’ objection, the district court applied the ACCA enhancement based on his failure to report and sentenced him to 15 years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed; however, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

“We conclude that the crime here at issue falls outside the scope of ACCA’s definition of ‘violent felony,’” the Court wrote. Failure to report “amounts to a form of inaction, a far cry from the ‘purposeful’, ‘violent’, and ‘aggressive’ conduct” that is contemplated by the ACCA. See: Chambers v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 687, 172 L.Ed.2d 484 (2009).

On April 7, 2009, the Seventh Circuit remanded Chambers’ case to the district court for resentencing, noting that he could “raise a new argument based on statutes or judicial decisions that postdate his original sentencing, provided they are not foreclosed by the decision in his appeal from his original, vacated sentence.” See: United States v. Chambers, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 7372 (7th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal cases

Chambers v. United States

United States v. Chambers