Individuals with a prior criminal record can have face fifteen year minimum sentences if they commit a new offense while possessing a firearm. These penalties are often harsh and unyielding. In Johnson v United States, the Supreme Court struck down the residual clause which made individuals guilty of violating this offense for having prior offenses which had a general element of violence. Under the modified categorical approach adopted by the court in past decisions, the focus is not on the specific offense, but the elements of the offense generally. Whether a particular offense qualified as a violent offense under the ACA was a point on which many legal minds often quibbled. Reversing a 2011 ruling, Justice Scalia writing for the Court found that the so-called residual clause constituted cruel or unusual punishment. Johnson v United States, No. 13-7120.
Last week, we reported that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases concerning the “honest services fraud.” At the end of last week, the Court received briefs on the third case. There, lawyers for a former Enron Corp. executive Jeffrey K. Skilling took the position that it is not the Justices’ job to rewrite a federal criminal law to give it meaning that Congress failed to provide. They thus contended that the so-called “honest services fraud” must be struck down as too vague to survive the Constitution’s limits. The merits brief for Jeffrey K. Skilling thus squarely gives the Court a full constitutional argument to consider. Skilling v. U.S., 08-1394. Read More...