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January 21, 2015

SCOTUS cert petition in Young v. United States asserting 15-year ACCA prison term violates the Eighth Amendment

As mention in class, I am working on an amicus brief in support of a petition for certiorari in Young v. United States. I just received a copy of the petition, which was filed today, and the petition's appendix includes a copy of the Sixth Circuit opinion which rejected the defendant's assertion that a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for being a felon in possession of shotgun shells violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The full petition and appendix can be downloaded below, and here is how the petition styles the Question Presented:  

Whether the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s “evolving standards of decency” standard bars the application of a sentencing enhancement, the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. section 924(e), to a conviction for being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(g)(1), when the defendant’s possession of the seven shotgun shells at issue was passive, innocent, and initially unwitting, when the defendant’s most recent prior felony conviction was twenty years old, and when the resulting mandatory minimum sentence is 18 times greater than the minimum sentence the defendant would have otherwise received and more than 11 times greater than the maximum sentence the defendant would have otherwise received.

Download Young v US -- Petition for Writ of Certiorari with Appendix

January 21, 2015 in Class activities, Interesting new cases, SCOTUS cases of note | Permalink


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Aside from his intentionally-worded question presented (18x and 11x greater than the max sentence defendant would have otherwise received), I think the most compelling segment of the attorney's brief in this case is the discussion from pages 20-24. The fact that defendant's possession of the shotgun shells was in fact "passive and innocent" is important, and he draws on that. Moreover, defendant did not even own a compatible shotgun, or ANY gun for that matter. Interestingly, he also incorporate notions of reasons for punishment as we have been discussing in our first few classes. Namely, in the middle of page 21, the attorney writes (entertainingly): "Under these circumstances, a straight-faced discussion of Mr. Young's section 922(g)(1) conviction constituting a failure of deterrence cannot be had."

The attorney's brief here raises the kinds of questions important for us to consider for a crime lacking (in my opinion) a sufficiently guilty mens rea: Is this REALLY the guy we want to punish, for such a length of time, even though the possession was passive, unwitting, and unintentional? Is throwing him into jail for a seemingly disproportionate amount of time going to accomplish the types of reformed behavior we expect of criminals? Can we really even reasonably consider Mr. Young to be a recidivist for unknowing shotgun shell possession?

I would definitely be interested to read Prof. Berman's amicus brief and following this case further.

Posted by: Kelly Flanigan | Jan 22, 2015 10:53:21 AM

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