Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Stokeling v. United States

United States Supreme Court

January 15, 2019

DENARD STOKELING, PETITIONER
v.
UNITED STATES

          Argued October 9, 2018

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

         Petitioner Stokeling pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). Based on Stokeling's prior criminal history, the probation office recommended the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term that the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) provides for §922(g) violators who have three previous convictions "for a violent felony," §924(e). As relevant here, Stokeling objected that his prior Florida robbery conviction was not a "violent felony," which ACCA defines, in relevant part, as "any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" that "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another," §924(e)(2)(B)(i). The District Court held that Stokeling's actions during the robbery did not justify an ACCA sentence enhancement, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

         Held:

1. ACCAs elements clause encompasses a robbery offense that requires the defendant to overcome the victim's resistance. Pp. 3-12.
(a) As originally enacted, ACCA prescribed a sentence enhancement for certain individuals with three prior convictions "for robbery or burglary," 18 U.S.C. App. §1202(a) (1982 ed., Supp. II), and defined robbery as an unlawful taking "by force or violence," §1202(c)(8)-a clear reference to common-law robbery, which required a level of "force" or "violence" sufficient to overcome the resistance of the victim, however slight. When Congress amended ACCA two years later, it replaced the enumerated crimes with the elements clause, an expanded enumerated offenses clause, and the now-defunct residual clause. The new elements clause extended ACCA to cover any offense that has as an element "the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force" §924(e)(2)(B)(i) (emphasis added). By replacing robbery with a clause that has "force" as its touchstone, Congress retained the same common-law definition that undergirded the definition of robbery in the original ACCA. This understanding is buttressed by the then widely accepted definitions of robbery among the States, a significant majority of which defined nonaggravated robbery as requiring a degree of force sufficient only to overcome a victim's resistance. Under Stokeling's reading, many of those state robbery statutes would not qualify as ACCA predicates. But federal criminal statutes should not be construed in ways that would render them inapplicable in many States. Pp. 3-8.
(b) This understanding of "physical force" comports with Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133. The force necessary for misdemeanor battery addressed in Johnson does not require resistance or even physical aversion on the part of the victim. Rather, the "slightest offensive touching" would qualify. Id., at 139. It is thus different in kind from the force necessary to overcome resistance by a victim, which is inherently "violent" in the sense contemplated by Johnson and "suggest[s] a degree of power that would not be satisfied by the merest touching." Ibid. Johnson did not purport, as Stokeling suggests, to establish a force threshold so high as to exclude even robbery from ACCAs scope. Pp. 8-10.
(c) Stokeling's suggested definition of "physical force"-force "reasonably expected to cause pain or injury"-is inconsistent with the degree of force necessary to commit robbery at common law. Moreover, the Court declined to adopt this standard in Johnson. Stokeling's proposal would prove exceedingly difficult to apply, would impose yet another indeterminable line-drawing exercise on the lower courts, and is not supported by United States v. Castleman, 572 U.S.157. Pp. 10-12.
2. Robbery under Florida law qualifies as an ACCA-predicate offense under the elements clause. The term "physical force" in ACCA encompasses the degree of force necessary to commit common-law robbery. And the Florida Supreme Court has made clear that the robbery statute requires "resistance by the victim that is overcome by the physical force of the offender." Robinson v. State, 692 So.2d 883, 886. Pp. 12-13.

684 Fed.Appx. 870, affirmed.

          THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Beeyer, Alito, Gorsuch, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. SoTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GlNSBURG and Kagan, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          Thomas Justice

         This case requires us to decide whether a robbery offense that has as an element the use of force sufficient to overcome a victim's resistance necessitates the use of "physical force" within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i). We conclude that it does.

         I

         In the early hours of July 27, 2015, two people burgled the Tongue & Cheek restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida. Petitioner Denard Stokeling was an employee of the restaurant, and the Miami Beach Police identified him as a suspect based on surveillance video from the burglary and witness statements. After conducting a criminal background check, police learned that Stokeling had previously been convicted of three felonies-home invasion, kidnaping, and robbery. When confronted, Stokeling admitted that he had a gun in his backpack. The detectives opened the backpack and discovered a 9-mm semiautomatic firearm, a magazine, and 12 rounds of ammunition.

         Stokeling pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). The probation office recommended that Stokeling be sentenced as an armed career criminal under ACCA, which provides that a person who violates §922(g) and who has three previous convictions for a "violent felony" shall be imprisoned for a minimum of 15 years. §924(e). ACCA defines "violent felony" as "any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" that

"(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or
"(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." §924(e)(2)(B).

         As relevant here, Stokeling objected that his 1997 Florida robbery conviction was not a predicate offense under ACCA. This conviction, he argued, did not qualify under the first clause-the "elements clause"-because Florida robbery does not have "as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force." [*]

         Under Florida law, robbery is defined as "the taking of money or other property... from the person or custody of another, . . . when in the course of the taking there is the use of force, violence, assault, or putting in fear." Fla. Stat. §812.13(1) (1995). The Florida Supreme Court has explained that the "use of force" necessary to commit robbery requires "resistance by the victim that is overcome by the physical force of the offender." Robinson v. State, 692 So.2d 883, 886 (1997).

         Instead of applying a categorical approach to the elements clause, the District Court evaluated whether the facts of Stokeling's robbery conviction were serious enough to warrant an enhancement. The court concluded that, although Stokeling" 'grabbed [the victim] by the neck and tried to remove her necklaces'" as she" 'held onto'" them, his actions did not "justify an enhancement." Sentencing Hearing in 15-cv-20815 (SD Fla.), Doc. 45, pp. 10-11. The court then sentenced Stokeling to less than half of the mandatory minimum 15-year term of imprisonment provided by ACCA.

         The Eleventh Circuit reversed. 684 Fed.Appx. 870 (2017). It held that the District Court erred in making its own factual determination about the level of violence involved in Stokeling's particular robbery offense. Id., at 871. The court also rejected Stokeling's argument that Florida robbery does not categorically require sufficient force to constitute a violent felony under ACCA's elements clause. Id., at 871-872.

         We granted certiorari to address whether the "force" required to commit robbery under Florida law qualifies as "physical force" for purposes of the elements clause. 584 U.S. __ (2018). We now affirm.

         II

         Construing the language of the elements clause in light of the history of ACCA and our opinion in Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133 (2010), we conclude that the elements clause encompasses robbery offenses that require the criminal to overcome the victim's resistance.

         A

         As originally enacted, ACCA prescribed a 15-year minimum sentence for any person who received, possessed, or transported a firearm following three prior convictions "for robbery or burglary." 18 U.S.C. App. § 1202(a) (1982 ed., Supp. II). Robbery was defined in relevant part as "any felony consisting of the taking of the property of another from the person or presence of another by force or violence." § 1202(c)(8) (1982 ed., Supp. II) (emphasis added).

         The statute's definition mirrored the elements of the common-law crime of robbery, which has long required force or violence. At common law, an unlawful taking was merely larceny unless the crime involved "violence." 2 J. Bishop, Criminal Law §1156, p. 860 (J. Zane & C. Zollman eds., 9th ed. 1923). And "violence" was "committed if sufficient force [was] exerted to overcome the resistance encountered." Id., at 861.

         A few examples illustrate the point. Under the common law, it was robbery "to seize another's watch or purse, and use sufficient force to break a chain or guard by which it is attached to his person, or to run against another, or rudely push him about, for the purpose of diverting his attention and robbing him." W. Clark & W. Marshall, Law of Crimes 554 (H. Lazell ed., 2d ed. 1905) (Clark & Marshall) (footnotes omitted). Similarly, it was robbery to pull a diamond pin out of a woman's hair when doing so tore away hair attached to the pin. See 2 W. Russell, Crimes and Indictable Misdemeanors 68 (2d ed. 1828). But the crime was larceny, not robbery, if the thief did not have to overcome such resistance.

         In fact, common-law authorities frequently used the terms "violence" and "force" interchangeably. See ibid. (concluding that "if any injury be done to the person, or there be any struggle by the party to keep possession of the property before it be taken from him, there will be a sufficient actual 'violence'" to establish robbery); Clark & Marshall 553 ("Sufficient force must be used to overcome resistance. . . . If there is any injury to the person of the owner, or if he resists the attempt to rob him, and his resistance is overcome, there is sufficient violence to make the taking robbery, however slight the resistance" (emphasis added)). The common law also did not distinguish between gradations of "violence." If an act physically overcame a victim's resistance, "however slight" that resistance might be, it necessarily constituted violence. Ibid.; 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 242 (1769) (distinguishing "taking ... by force" from "privately stealing," and stating that the use of this "violence" differentiates robbery from other larcenies); see also 3 id., at 120 (explaining, in the battery context, that "the law cannot draw the line between different degrees of violence, and therefore totally prohibits the first and lowest stage of it").

         The overlap between "force" and "violence" at common law is reflected in modern legal and colloquial usage of these terms. "Force" means "[p]ower, violence, or pressure directed against a person or thing," Black's Law Dictionary 656 (7th ed. 1999), or "unlawful violence threatened or committed against persons or property," Random House Dictionary of the English Language 748 (2d ed. 1987). Likewise, "violence" implies force, including an "unjust or unwarranted use of force." Black's Law Dictionary, at 1564; accord, Random House Dictionary, at 2124 ("rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment," or "an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws").

         Against this background, Congress, in the original ACCA, defined robbery as requiring the use of "force or violence"-a clear reference to the common law of robbery. See Samantar v. Yousuf, 560 U.S. 305, 320, n. 13 (2010) ("Congress 'is understood to legislate against a background of common-law . . . principles'"). And the level of "force" or "violence" needed at common law was by this time well established: "Sufficient force must be used to overcome resistance . . . however slight the resistance." Clark & Marshall 553.

         In 1986, Congress amended the relevant provisions of ACCA to their current form. The amendment was titled Expansion of Predicate Offenses for Armed Career Criminal Penalties. See Career Criminals Amendment Act of 1986, §1402, 100 Stat. 3207-39. This amendment replaced the two enumerated crimes of "robbery or burglar/ with the current elements clause, a new enumerated-offenses list, and a (now-defunct) residual clause. See Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. __ (2015). In the new statute, robbery was no longer enumerated as a predicate offense. But the newly created elements clause extended ACCA to cover any offense that has as an element "the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force." 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i) (2012 ed.) (emphasis added).

         "'[I]f a word is obviously transplanted from another legal source, whether the common law or other legislation, it brings the old soil with it.'" Hall v. Hall, 584 U.S. __, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 13) (quoting Frankfurter, Some Reflections on the Reading of Statutes, 47 Colum. L. Rev. 527, 537 (1947)). That principle supports our interpretation of the term "force" here. By retaining the term "force" in the 1986 version of ACCA and otherwise" [e]xpan[ding]" the predicate offenses under ACCA, Congress made clear that the "force" required for common-law robbery would be sufficient to justify an enhanced sentence under the new elements clause. We can think of no reason to read "force" in the revised statute to require anything more than the degree of "force" required in the 1984 statute. And it would be anomalous to read "force" as excluding the quintessential ACCA-predicate crime of robbery, despite the amendment's retention of the term "force" and its stated intent to expand the number of qualifying offenses.

         The symmetry between the 1984 definition of robbery (requiring the use of "force or violence") and the 1986 elements clause (requiring the use of "physical force") is striking. By replacing robbery as an enumerated offense with a clause that has "force" as its touchstone, Congress made clear that "force" retained the same common-law definition that undergirded the original definition of robbery adopted a mere two years earlier. That conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.