Armed Career Criminal Act

Descamps v. United States (11-9540)

Matthew Descamps was sentenced to 262 months in prison after the Ninth Circuit found that he had committed his third violent felony, in violation of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The contested violent felony was a 1978 conviction for burglary of a California grocery store. Under the California burglary statute, one can be convicted of burglary without an explicit finding that entry into the burgled premises was itself unlawful.  The element of unlawful entry is required under the generic burglary statute described in the ACCA. The Ninth Circuit found the “unlawful entry” element to be necessarily satisfied by the plea bargain agreed to by Descamps, thus subjecting him to the mandatory fifteen-year minimum prison sentence required under the ACCA. How the Supreme Court decides this case will determine how sentencing courts use factual assertions surrounding a prior conviction in situations where a violent crime as defined under the ACCA contains elements absent from the crime for which the defendant was convicted.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

1. Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling in United States v. Aguila-Montes De Oca, 655 F.3d 915 (9th Cir. 2011), (En Banc) that a state conviction for burglary where the statute is missing an element of the generic crime, may be subject to the modified categorical approach, even though most other Circuit Courts of Appeal would not allow it.

2. Whether is it time for this Court to overrule Almandez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998), apply Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 224 (2000), and require an Indictment and trial on the issue of application of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

3. Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling in the instant case was in derogation of the requirements in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990) and Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13 (2005).



1. Whether the Ninth Circuit can find a missing element to be satisfied by using a modified categorical approach.
2. Whether imposition of the Armed Career Criminal Act should require a separate indictment and trial.

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