High court kills part of sen­tence law

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION -

The Supreme Court struck down part of a fed­eral law in­tended to keep peo­ple con­victed of re­peated vi­o­lent crimes in prison longer.

The jus­tices ruled that a catchall phrase in the Armed Ca­reer Crim­i­nal Act defin­ing what crimes make a de­fen­dant el­i­gi­ble for a longer prison term is too vague.

The court sided with Sa­muel James John­son, who pleaded guilty to fed­eral weapons charges in 2012. John­son was sen­tenced to 15 years in prison — f ive more than he oth­er­wise would have got­ten — be­cause of his prior con­vic­tions.

That law lists bur­glary, ar­son, ex­tor­tion and the use of ex­plo­sives as spe­cific cat­e­gories of pre­vi­ous crimes that can lead to a longer sen­tence. But it also says a vi­o­lent felony is a crime that “oth­er­wise in­volves con­duct that presents a se­ri­ous po­ten­tial risk of phys­i­cal in­jury to another.”

Six jus­tices agreed the phrase is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

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