The law frequently talks about “violent crimes,” but Oceanside violent crimes lawyers know that unless a crime is specifically defined as violent in the law itself, defining what is or is not violent can be a tricky task. That’s particularly true when trying to apply one state’s laws to another or to federal laws. A recent Supreme Court decision clears things up a little, but the definition is surprisingly broad and could have some major repercussions for those charged with even seemingly non-violent offenses in the future.
Stokeling v. United States
The case revolves around the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which is sort of like the federal version of California’s Three Strikes Law. Under the law, those who have been found guilty of three violent felonies or serious drug charge will automatically have 15 years added to their sentence if they are convicted of possessing firearms. The specific case involved a man previously charged for robbery after snatching a necklace from a woman’s neck, which he argued shouldn’t be considered a violent crime for sentencing purposes.
The Court debated what constitutes a “violent” felony under the law and ultimately, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the fact that the victim resisted was enough to define a crime as violent. “The force necessary to overcome a victim’s physical resistance is inherently ‘violent,’” Justice Thomas wrote, continuing that “The altercation need not cause pain or injury or even be prolonged; it is the physical contest between the criminal and the victim that is itself ‘capable of causing physical pain or injury.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that using such a definition would mean a pickpocket who pulls free after the victim catches his arm or a purse snatcher who pulled an item from the victim’s hands both would be considered violent offenders. She further expanded on her dissent, saying, “As any first-year torts student (or person with a shoulder injury) quickly learns, even a tap on the shoulder is ‘capable of causing physical pain or injury’ in certain cases.”
Oceanside Violent Crime Attorneys’ Opinion
The United States Supreme Court ruling only effects federal criminal cases and in a very narrow context. California law, which governs our state courts, has a laundry list of crimes which qualify for violent crime designation. It is the very conviction of those crimes (including robbery, rape, murder, felonies with use of a deadly weapon, or infliction of great bodily injury) which make a crime violent. California defines robbery as a violent crime and any degree of force or fear in stealing property elevates a theft to a robbery.
In this way, California law does mirror the Supreme Court ruling. The District Attorney, however, will sometimes offer plea agreements to reduce a robbery to a grand theft if minimal force is used, so it is important to have a good Oceanside violent crime defense attorney in your corner.
If you have been accused of a violent crime and wonder how this new law may affect you, or if you have any questions about the Court’s ruling, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with top Oceanside violent crimes attorney Peter M. Liss.
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