Sykes v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

DOCKET NO.: 09-11311
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 564 US (2011)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2010
ARGUED: Jan 12, 2011
DECIDED: Jun 09, 2011

Jeffrey B. Wall – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
William E. Marsh – for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Marcus Sykes pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana enhanced Sykes’ sentence under the ACCA after determining that he had previously been found guilty of three violent felonies.

In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that “fleeing police in a vehicle in violation of Ind. Code § 35-44-3-3(b)(1)(A) is sufficiently similar to ACCA’s enumerated crimes in kind, as well as the degree of risk posed, and counts as a violent felony under ACCA.”


Does a conviction for resisting arrest counts as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act?

Media for Sykes v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 12, 2011 in Sykes v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 09, 2011 in Sykes v. United States

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case, Sykes versus United States, is another in a series of cases the Court has decided under a federal statute known as the Armed Career Criminal Act, and that statute is commonly referred to as ACCA.

ACCA makes it a federal crime for convicted felon to be in unlawful possession of a firearm.

Now, the ordinary maximum sentence is 10 years of imprisonment.

But if — when the unlawful possession occurred, the felon had three previous convictions for a violent felony, then ACCA increases the punishment to a minimum term of 15 years.

This case presents the issue whether flight from the police, when the felon uses a vehicle to flee, is a violent felony under ACAA.

The Court of the Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that it is.

We agree and we affirm.

In determining whether an offense is a violent felony, the Court employs a categorical approach.

That means it looks to the elements of the offense as a general matter not to the particular facts in the record of conviction.

ACCA prescribes that a prior conviction qualifies if it is a crime enumerated in the statute, then there’s a final clause, a residual clause and that residual clause says that an act is a violent felony if it otherwise involves conduct that presents serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

The question is whether a felon who uses a vehicle to flee from the police is covered by this residual clause and so, this case requires us to determine if vehicle flight from a police officer presents a serious risk of physical injury to another.

Sykes was convicted of vehicle flight under Indiana law, and that introduces a slight complication, and that’s because Indiana has a statute with a separate provision for using a vehicle to resist law enforcement office — law enforcement in a variety of ways including flight, where that resistance involves a substantial risk of bodily injury to — to another.

Both relevant provisions carry the same penalties however, so they do not reflect an expectation that risky vehicle flights will be prosecuted only under the separate provision.

We hold that the bar in flight from police, when the defender uses a vehicle to flee, involves a level of risk that qualifies it as a violent felony for ACAA purposes.

The — the determination of the fleeing suspect to elude capture, show — shows an inherent lack of concern for others’ safety.

However, he drives, the criminal attempting to elude capture, creates the possibility that the police will, in a legitimate and lawful manner, accelerate or use force to bring him within their custody.

Although not dispositive, statistics confirm this commonsense conclusion, for instance, personal injury rates for arson and burglary are about 20% lower than they are for vehicle flight.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion.

Justice Kagan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg joins.