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Descamps v. United States

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 20, 2013
Case #: 11-9540
Kagan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-9540_8m58.pdf

Sentencing: A court may not use the modified categorical approach when considering a defendant's conviction under an indivisible statue that is broader than the generic offense.

Petitioner was convicted of a federal crime, and the government moved to enhance Petitioner’s sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Petitioner argued at sentencing that his prior burglary conviction could not serve as an ACCA predicate because the state statute covered a broader range of conduct than generic burglary, and thus the conviction did not qualify as a burglary conviction under the ACCA. The District Court disagreed, and applying the modified categorical approach, examined Petitioner’s plea colloquy to determine that Petitioner had admitted to committing the elements of generic burglary. 

The Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on a previous decision which held that a sentencing court may use the modified categorical approach when considering a conviction under a statute that is broader than the generic offense.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a sentencing court may only use the modified categorical approach to determine which single element provided the basis for a defendant’s conviction. A court may not use the modified categorical approach when considering a defendant's conviction under an indivisible statue that is broader than the generic offense. Because the state burglary statute defined the offense with a single, indivisible set of elements, the Court concluded, the modified categorical approach could not be employed to bring Petitioner’s conviction under the ACCA .