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Travis Beckles v. United States, USSC No. 15-8544, cert. granted 6/27/16

Questions presented:

Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) found the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(B)(ii)(defining “violent felony”) unconstitutionally vague. That clause is identical to the residual cause in the career-offender provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2)(defining “crime of violence”)

(1) Whether Johnson v. United States applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under the residual clause in United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.2(a)(2) (defining “crime of violence”);

(2) whether Johnson‘s constitutional holding applies to the residual clause in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2), thereby rendering challenges to sentences enhanced under it cognizable on collateral review; and

(3) whether mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun, an offense listed as a “crime of violence” only in commentary to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2, remains a “crime of violence” after Johnson.

Lower court opinion:   Beckles v. United States, USSC docket; SCOTUSblog page (including cert petition)

This case is a follow up to Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), which held that Johnson announced a substantive rule that applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. See our prior post re Welch. Here the question is whether Johnson applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under an identical residual clause in the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Beckles urged SCOTUS to grant his petition and decide these issues quickly because, among other things, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently voted to delete §4B1.2(a)(2) and to not apply that amendment retroactively. These changes will take effect in August. SCOTUS took its time granting the petition. Looks like the the court will hear and decide the case next term. According to Beckles, his case will have far broader impact than Johnson. Indeed, it could affect tens of thousands of federal prisoners sentenced under  §4B1.2(a)(2). The third issue is also interesting because it raises the question of whether the commentary to the USSGs can define a “crime of violence” or whether only the text of the statute can do that.


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