Taylor v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Naval Base San Diego

DOCKET NO.: 88-7194
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 495 US 575 (1990)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1990
DECIDED: May 29, 1990

Bruce D. Livingston - on behalf of the Petitioner
Michael R. Lazerwitz - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Taylor v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1990 in Taylor v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-7194, Arthur Lajuane Taylor v. United States.

Mr. Livingston.

Bruce D. Livingston:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves the statutory interpretation of 18 U.S.C. 924(e), which provides for a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years without parole to persons found in violation of Section 922(g) of that Title and who have three previous convictions for a violent felony.

A violent felony under that statute is defined as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year and for purposes of this case is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives or otherwise presents a risk of serious... serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

In the district court, for purposes of facts of this case, the court relied upon four felony convictions, two of which we do not contest, but two of which were burglary second-degree under Missouri law, which we contend were not within the definition of violent felony under this statute.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed that holding and affirmed a 15-year sentence, holding that anything labeled burglary under any state law fell within the definition of violent felony.

The sole issue, as far as we can ascertain, is whether the definition should give effect to the statutory language and limited definition to burglaries which present a serious potential risk of physical injury or whether a definition which was repealed from the predecessor statute, the 1984 act, should be given effect as the government argues.

As applied to Petitioner, if those second-degree burglaries are found to present a risk of injury, then he would have been properly sentenced.

Otherwise, he should be given a new sentence, reversed and remanded so that he would be given a maximum term of five years.

In the abstract, the term "burglary" in the statute is ambiguous.

There are a large number of definitions for that term starting, first, I think, with the common law definition which is the breaking and entering of a dwelling place in the night time.

There are numerous other definitions, though.

Only about five... as many as... forms of common law burglary, maybe six or seven states have that definition.

And there are many, many varying definitions of burglary among the other states.

William H. Rehnquist:

I... I take it that something might not qualify as burglary under Roman numeral ii, but might qualify as presenting a serious potential risk of physical injury to another?

Bruce D. Livingston:

I believe that's correct.

Insofar as there may be a vagueness problem with the term burglary, it is possible, I believe, to find some crimes which could be labeled something other than burglary, or maybe be burglary and, if you ruled out the definition entirely, you could still get it under a catch-all definition as conduct that presents a risk of physical injury to others.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

You haven't challenged the statute as being vague, have you?

Bruce D. Livingston:


I... I think this statute can be construed without any constitutional problems.

I didn't raise the issue below.

It does strike me, though, as burglary without being defined when it has a number of definitions so that it is difficult to ascertain an ordinary--

Byron R. White:

There would to be some... some conduct that any fool would know is burglary, wouldn't there?

Bruce D. Livingston:

--Well, not... it depends whether any fool was in Maryland, Virginia or Missouri.

Byron R. White:

Well, I know, I know.

But isn't there some... isn't there some core meaning to burglary that all... every state would recognize?

Bruce D. Livingston:


I... I don't believe there is.

At least not... insofar as the government seeks to have you take their definition as one which would be any concept of burglary, because that definition really is a distillation or conglomeration of the broadest thing.