Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Strong Arm Of The Law

United States v. Walker, No. 08-3874-cr (2d Cir. February 18, 2010) (Feinberg, Katzamann, CJJ, Ellis, DJ)

Here, the circuit upheld the use of Walker’s prior conviction for “strong arm robbery” – a South Carolina common law offense – as a “crime of violence” to enhance his offense level under the firearms guideline. The court rejected the argument that only statutory offenses can be used as guideline enhancements, agreeing with the Ninth Circuit that “when a state crime is defined by specific and identifiable common law elements, rather than by a specific statute, the common law definition of a crime serves as a functional equivalent of a statutory definition.” Common law offenses are just as amenable as statutory offenses to the “categorical approach for enhancement determinations.”

The guideline at issue expressly includes “robbery” as a “crime of violence.” Thus, since “strong arm robbery” in South Carolina corresponds in substance to the generic meaning of robbery, it qualifies. The South Carolina Supreme Court has defined the offense as the “felonious or unlawful taking of money, goods, or other personal property of any value from the person of another in his presence by violence or by putting such person in fear.” This definition corresponds “in all material respects” to the generic definition of robbery.

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