U.S. Supreme Court: “Three Strikes” Law is “unconstitutional” and violation of due process

The case is Johnson versus United States.

U.S. Supreme Court rules (8 to 1) to strike “Three Strikes” Law as “unconstitutional “ and a violation of due process and “unconstitutionally vague.” Justice Alito was the sole dissenting opinion.

The main holding: Imposing an increased sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act’s residual clause violates due process.

“The Government violates the Due Process Clause when it takes away someone’s life, liberty, or property under a criminal law so vague that it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, or so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement… Courts must use the “categorical approach” when deciding whether an offense is a violent felony, looking only to the fact that the defendant has been convicted of crimes falling within certain categories, and not to the facts underlying the prior convictions… Two features of the residual clause conspire to make it unconstitutionally vague. By tying the judicial assessment of risk to a judicially imagined “ordinary case” of a crime rather than to real-world facts or statutory elements, the clause leaves grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime. At the same time, the residual clause leaves uncertainty about how much risk it takes for a crime to qualify as a violent felony. Taken together, these uncertainties produce more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates. This Court’s repeated failure to craft a principled standard out of the residual clause and the lower courts’ persistent inability to apply the clause in a consistent way confirm its hopeless indeterminacy…”
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U.S. Constitution, Amendment V “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws…”

 

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