Sixth Circuit Reverses and Finds "facilitation of the burglary of a building under Tennessee law is not categorically a Violent Felony"

Sixth Circuit Reverses and Finds "facilitation of the burglary of a building under Tennessee law is not categorically a Violent Felony"

The Sixth Circuit today reversed the District Court, Western District of Tennessee for a sentencing issue under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The background is that the defendant, Vanhook, pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  For sentencing purposes, the probation office wrote a presentence report (PSR) and concluded that Vanhook qualified as an "armed career criminal” as a result of having committed three violent  felonies. One of these predicate felonies was a state conviction for facilitation of the burglary of a building.  Because of his status as an armed career criminal, Vanhook was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.  Vanhook appealed this sentencing determination but was unsuccessful in his initial trip to the Sixth Circuit.

Since the initial appeal, the Supreme Court issued its decisions in United States v. Begay, and United States v. Chambers, which substantially altered the legal test courts must use when determining whether a prior state court conviction constitutes a violent felony for armed career criminal purposes. In light of its decisions in Begay and Chambers, the Supreme Court vacated Vanhook’s sentence and remanded the case back to the Sixth Circuit. 

The Sixth Circuit remanded the case back to the Western District Court TN which found that his burglary conviction again qualified him as an armed career criminal for ACCA purposes.  This sentencing determination was appealed to the Sixth Circuit for determination of the District Court's findings.

Generally, "[a] panel of [the Sixth Circuit] Court cannot overrule the decision of another panel." Darrah v. City of Oak Park, 255 F.3d 301, 309 (6th Cir. 2001)). However, “this case presents the unique situation in which an inconsistent decision of the United States Supreme Court requires modification of the [prior]decision." 

This panel of the Sixth Circuit today vacates the District Court's findings and finds that facilitation of a burglary of a building under Tennessee law is not categorically a violent felony for armed career criminal purposes.

The Sixth Circuit writes that "this is one of the rare cases in which a statute criminalizing “knowing” conduct does not describe conduct sufficiently purposeful to qualify as a violent felony.  We do not hold that ‘knowingly’ always suffices under (Supreme Court precedent) for perhaps there are some offenses that, while committed ‘knowingly,’ do not typically involve purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct.

The Court observes: this case "presents the novel question of whether an individual commits a purposeful crime when he acts with the knowledge that another intends to commit a crime, but without the intent to commit or assist in the commission of the crime itself."

The District Court's classification of Vanhook as an armed career is vacated and his case is again remanded back to the Western District Court of TN.


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