Welch v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: April 18, 2016
  • Case #: 15-6418
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

Collateral petitioners convicted under the Armed Career Criminal Act may seek retroactive relief consistent with the Court’s prior ruling that the residual clause of the Act is void for vagueness.

In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to possession of a firearm. At the time he entered his plea, Petitioner had three prior felony convictions, including a “strong-arm robbery” charge. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, a felon who violates the act by possessing a firearm after three prior felony convictions for "violent felon[ies]" is subjected to a minimum sentence of fifteen years. The maximum sentence for felons found in possession of a firearm is ordinarily ten years in Petitioner’s jurisdiction. While this case was pending, the Supreme Court held in Johnson that the part of the definition of “violent felony” known as the residual clauses that extends the definition to “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” was void for vagueness. Meanwhile, Petitioner was denied post-conviction relief in district court and by the Eleventh Circuit, despite asserting the void for vagueness argument that ultimately prevailed in Johnson. The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts and held that Johnson applied retroactively on collateral petitions. The Court reasoned that new substantive rules may be applied retroactively and those merely functioning as procedural rules may not. It then determined that Johnson is a substantive rule, because it functionally limits the degree of punishment levied on defendants targeted by the statute, and therefore qualifies for retroactive application. VACATED and REMANDED.

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