Published on: Tuesday, December 11, 2018

In an unanimous opinion written by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court held that the term “burglary” in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), “includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation.” See United States v. Stitt, No. 17-765 (Dec. 10, 2018), consolidated with United States v. Sims, No. 17-766 (Dec. 10, 2018).  This case is important because ACCA requires an enhanced sentence of at least 15-years for certain offenders convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm who have at least three previous convictions for certain “violent” or drug-related felonies, including convictions for “burglary.”  See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). 

Both respondents/defendants were otherwise eligible enhanced ACCA sentences based on prior convictions for burglary. Victor Stitt had prior convictions for aggravated burglary under a Tennessee statute that inluded "any structure, including ... mobile homes, trailers, and tents, which is deisgned or adapted for overnight accommodation of persons," and any "self-propelled vehcle that is deisgned or adpated for the overnight accomodation of persons and is actually occupoied at the time of initial entry by the defendant." Tenn. Code. Ann §39-14-401(A), (B) (1997). Jason Sims's prior convictions were for violations of an Arkansas statute that prohibits burglary of a "residential occupiable structure," which was defined to include "a vehicle, building, or other stucture: (1) [w]here any person lives; or (2) [w]hich is custimarily used for overnight acommodation of persons whether or not a person is actually present."  Ark. Code Ann § 5-39-101(1), 201(a)(1) (Michie 1997). Stitt and Sims both argued their burglary convictions should not qualify as "burglary" under ACCA because their respective state statutes included "vehicles" and were therefore overbroad.  

The Court explained that Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), which considered the generic definition of “burglary” under ACCA, “governs here and determines the outcome.” Taylor held that ACCA requires application of a "generic" definition of burglary when evaluating whether a prior conviction should be counted to support a sentencing enhancement, i.e., a "categorical" definition that looks to the statutory elements of a state's burglary statute, not of how an individual offender might have committed it on a particualr occassion.  Taylor defined the elements of generic “burglary” as “an unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime.” Looking to the manner in which state statutes defined burglary at the time ACCA was adopoted in 1986, the Court in Stitt/Sims concluded that "a majority of state burglary statutes covered vehicles adapted or customarily used for lodging."  Thus, Taylor's reference to "structure" in the generic definition of burglary is broad enough to encompass vehicles, according to Stitt/Sims.  

The briefing in these consolidated cases is available on the Supreme Court’s website here (Stitt) and here (Sims)Stitt and Sims were argued on October 9, 2018—Justice Kavanagh’s first day on the bench and the same day that another ACCA case was argued. Stokeling v. United States, 17-5554 (Oct. 9, 2018) (oral argument transcript here, briefing here) (considering question “[i]s a state robbery offense that includes ‘as an element’ the common law requirement of overcoming ‘victim resistance’ categorically a ‘violent felony’ under the only remaining definition of that term in the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i)(an offense that ‘has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another’), if the offense has been specifically interpreted by state appellate courts to require only slight force to overcome resistance?”).  The opinion in Stokeling has not been issued.

The Training Division provides sentencing resources specifically on enhancements for crimes of violence and violent felonies to help you argue for the best possible sentence for your client.