LOCATION:U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay
DOCKET NO.: 06-6911
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 552 US 23 (2007)
GRANTED: Feb 20, 2007
ARGUED: Oct 30, 2007
DECIDED: Dec 04, 2007
Daryl Joseffer – on behalf of the Respondent
Richard A. Coad – on behalf of Petitioner
Facts of the case
Four-time convicted felon James Logan received an enhanced sentence of 15 years under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) after his conviction for firearm possession. The ACCA imposes heavier penalties upon felons convicted of three or more violent crimes. Logan contended that his three battery convictions did not count toward the three-conviction threshold because none of them had resulted in the loss of his civil rights. (Battery is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, but it qualifies as a violent crime under the ACCA.) Since the ACCA excludes those violent crime convictions for which civil rights have been restored to the felon, Logan argued that convictions that never stripped him of his civil rights should be excluded as well.
A District Court ruled against Logan because a literal reading of the ACCA excluded only those who have “had civil rights restored.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that it is impossible to restore civil rights that are never taken away, and that Logan’s battery convictions must therefore be counted under the ACCA.
Are convictions that do not result in loss of civil rights excluded from the three convictions necessary to activate the Armed Career Criminal Act’s sentence enhancement?
Media for Logan v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 04, 2007 in Logan v. United States
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Ginsburg has the opinion of the Court in case 06-6911, Logan versus United States.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
We decide in this case the meaning of the words “civil rights restored” contained in a provision on sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act or ACCA.
Ordinarily, felons who possess firearms are subject to a maximum sentence of 10 years, but ACCA increases the maximum to life and the minimum to 15 years for felons who have three prior convictions for violent felonies.
Congress defined violent felonies to include violent misdemeanors punishable under state law by more than two years in prison.
Pivotal here, Congress exempted from classification as violent felonies, cases in which the offender has had his civil rights restored.
Petitioner James Logan pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He was sentenced to ACCA’s mandatory minimum of 15 years.
His ACCA enhanced sentence rested on three prior convictions in Wisconsin.
Each was for misdemeanor battery, a crime punishable by more than two years imprisonment but causing no loss of civil rights.
Challenging his enhanced sentence, Logan argued that convictions carrying no loss of civil rights are functionally equivalent to convictions for which rights are loss but later regained. The District Court upheld the sentence.
One cannot have civil rights restored, the Court said, unless they were earlier withdrawn.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed as we do in turn.
Congress, we hold, did not include offenders who retained civil rights at all times, in its dispensation for offenders whose civil rights have been restored.
The ordinary meaning of the word “restored” is to give back something that has been taken away.
Indicating that Congress intended restore to have its ordinary meaning, the words “civil rights restored” appear in the statute’s text together with other acts of official forgiveness, expungements, set asides and pardons.
The offender who retains rights all along however gets post conviction no official token of forgiveness.
Literal interpretation, Logan objects ought not to control when it yields absurd results.
In some States, Logan points out, misdemeanants retain civil rights while felons lose, but then automatically regain rights on release from prison.
What sense does it makes he asked to expose lesser offenders, misdemeanants to heighten punishment while more serious offenders who got back civil rights automatically may escape ACCA’s reach?
The anomaly is less glaring then Logan suggest, An offender whose civil rights have been restored will gain no exemption from ACCA if the State explicitly prohibits him from possessing firearms, a ban many States impose.
Such a felon has no advantage over a misdemeanant who never lost his civil rights.
Logan’s reading also creates anomalies.
Well, we too accept his interpretation that in a State that does not revoke any offender’s civil rights, even a murder conviction could gain exemption from ACCA.
Although Congress explicitly placed state misdemeanors within ACCA’s ambit, Logan’s interpretation, we emphasize would effectively place them beyond ACCA’s reach for misdemeanants generally retain their civil rights.
We are disinclined to say that what Congress imposed with one hand, it withdrew with the other.
Moreover, even if we were convinced that Logan was exposed to ACCA because of a congressional oversight or mistake, we have no means or authority or determine which of several solutions Congress might adopt.
The distinction between rights retained and rights restored, we note finally, may not have been inadvertent.
In a provision modelled almost word for word on ACCA but relating to domestic violence, Congress explicitly excluded from civil rights restored, convictions for which civil right were never taken away.
Given the resemblance between the two statutes, it is surely reasonable to conclude that Congress intended civil rights restored to convey the same meaning in both provisions.
In prescribing sentences under ACCA, Congress chose to incorporate state law classifications and definitions.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The diversity of those laws made sentencing disparities inevitable.
Recognizing that reality, we hold that the word “civil rights restored” in the provision under inspection mean just that and do not encompass civil rights retained.
Our decision is unanimous.