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Taylor v. United States (495 U.S. 575)

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United States Supreme Court

495 U.S. 575

Arthur Lajuane Taylor  v.  The United States

No. 88-7194  Argued: February 28, 1990. --- Decided: May 29, 1990.

When respondent Taylor pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), he had four prior convictions, including two for second-degree burglary under Missouri law. The Government sought to apply § 924(e), which, inter alia, (1) provides a sentence enhancement for a "person" convicted under § 922(g) who "has three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony," and (2) defines "violent felony" as "(B) . . . any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" that "(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against [another's] person," or "(ii) is burglary [or other specified offenses] or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." In imposing an enhanced sentence upon Taylor, the District Court rejected his contention that, because his burglary convictions did not present a risk of physical injury under § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), they should not count. The Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the word "burglary" in § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) "means 'burglary' however a state chooses to define it."

Held: An offense constitutes "burglary" under § 924(e) if, regardless of its exact definition or label, it has the basic elements of a "generic" burglary—i.e., an unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime—or if the charging paper and jury instructions actually required the jury to find all the elements of generic burglary in order to convict the defendant. Pp. 581-602.

(a) The convicting State's definition of "burglary" cannot control the word's meaning under § 924(e), since that would allow sentence enhancement for identical conduct in different States to turn upon whether the particular States happened to call the conduct "burglary." That result is not required by § 924(e)'s omission of a "burglary" definition contained in a prior version of the statute absent a clear indication that Congress intended by the deletion to abandon its general approach of using uniform categorical definitions for predicate offenses. "Burglary" in § 924(e) must have some uniform definition independent of the labels used by the various States' criminal codes. Cf. United States v. Nardello, 393 U.S. 286, 293-294, 89 S.Ct. 534, 538-539, 21 L.Ed.2d 487. Pp. 590-592.

(b) Nor is § 924(e) limited to the common-law definition of "burglary"—i.e., a breaking and entering of a dwelling at night with intent to commit a felony. Since that definition has been expanded in most States to include entry without a "breaking," structures other than dwellings, daytime offenses, intent to commit crimes other than felonies, etc., the modern crime has little in common with its common-law ancestor. Moreover, absent a specific indication of congressional intent, a definition so obviously ill suited to the statutory purpose of controlling violent crimes by career offenders cannot be read into § 924(e). The definition's arcane distinctions have little relevance to modern law enforcement concerns, and, because few of the crimes now recognized as burglaries would fall within the definition, its adoption would come close to nullifying the effect of the statutory term "burglary." Under these circumstances, the general rule of lenity does not require adoption of the common-law definition. Pp. 592-596.

(c) Section 924(e) is not limited to those burglaries that involve especially dangerous conduct, such as first-degree or aggravated burglaries. If that were Congress' intent, there would have been no reason to add the word "burglary" to § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), since that provision already includes any crime that "involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk" of harm to persons. It is more likely that Congress thought that burglary and the other specified offenses so often presented a risk of personal injury or were committed by career criminals that they should be included even though, considered solely in terms of their statutory elements, they do not necessarily involve the use or threat of force against a person. Moreover, the choice of the unqualified language "is burglary . . . or otherwise involves" dangerous conduct indicates that Congress thought that ordinary burglaries, as well as those involving especially dangerous elements, should be included. Pp. 596-597.

(d) There thus being no plausible alternative, Congress meant by "burglary" the generic sense in which the term is now used in most States' criminal codes. The fact that this meaning is practically identical to the omitted statutory definition is irrelevant. That definition was not explicitly replaced with a different or narrower one, and the legislative history discloses that no alternative was ever discussed. The omission therefore implies, at most, that Congress simply did not wish to specify an exact formulation. Pp. 598-599.

(e) The sentencing court must generally adopt a formal categorical approach in applying the enhancement provision, looking only to the fact of conviction and the statutory definition of the predicate offense, rather than to the particular underlying facts. That approach is required, since, when read in context, § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii)'s "is burglary" phrase most likely refers to the statutory elements of the offense rather than to the facts of the defendant's conduct; since the legislative history reveals a general categorical approach to predicate offenses; and since an elaborate factfinding process regarding the defendant's prior offenses would be impracticable and unfair. The categorical approach, however, would still permit the sentencing court to go beyond the mere fact of conviction in the narrow range of cases in which the indictment or information and the jury instructions actually required the jury to find all of the elements of generic burglary even though the defendant was convicted under a statute defining burglary in broader terms. Pp. 599-602.

(f) The judgment must be vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings, since, at the time of Taylor's convictions, most but not all of the Missouri second-degree burglary statutes included all the elements of generic burglary, and it is not apparent from the sparse record which of those statutes were the bases for the convictions. P. 602.

864 F.2d 625, (CA 8 1989) vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II of which SCALIA, J., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 603.

Bruce Dayton Livingston, J. Bennett Clark, St. Louis, Mo., for petitioner.

Michael R. Lazerwitz, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).