July 27, 2021

Thomas, Gorsuch side with liberal justices in favor of criminal defendant

The United States Supreme court handed down a 5-4 ruling around the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch siding with the liberal judges, according to The Hill.

A Thursday ruling came down in favor of criminal defendant Charles Borden Jr.’s who asserted that he should not be subject to the 1984 ACCA which puts a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence on particular repeat offenders who are found to be in illegal possession of a gun.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch sided with a majority opinion penned by Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court’s most liberal judges, who contended that Borden’s previous offenses didn’t rise to the level that merited the ACCA.

“The question here is whether a criminal offense can count as a ‘violent felony’ if it requires only a mens rea of recklessness — a less culpable mental state than purpose or knowledge,” Kagan wrote. “We hold that a reckless offense cannot so qualify.”

Kagen was referring to one of Borden’s previous offenses that was for aggravated assault that he committed recklessly, not in a premeditated manner, which would break the streak needed for three or more prior violent felonies.

Kegan, Thomas, and Gorsuch were joined by justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, the other two judges on the nation’s high court. However, Thomas’s agreement with the liberal judges came with reluctance and a separate opinion.

In his concurrent opinion, Thomas that, “Although I am ‘reluctant to magnify the burdens that our [erroneous] jurisprudence imposes,’ Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584, 610 (2002) (Scalia, J., concurring), I conclude that the particular provision at issue here does not encompass petitioner’s conviction for reckless aggravated assault, even though the consequences of today’s judgment are at odds with the larger statutory scheme.

“The need to make this choice is yet another consequence of the Court’s vagueness- doctrine cases like Johnson v. United States, 576 U. S. 591 (2015).”

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18 Responses

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