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Eighth Circuit: Illinois Burglary Conviction Not Valid Predicate Offense for ACCA Purposes

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled on September 28, 2017 that a generic burglary conviction in Illinois cannot be used as one of the three “violent felonies” necessary to establish violation of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).

The ACCA is a federal statute that provides enhanced penalties, including a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence, for defendants with three prior convictions for certain “violent felonies.” When Eddie Byas was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the district court applied the ACCA and imposed a 15-year, mandatory minimum. Byas objected, arguing that one of the three predicate convictions used by the court, a burglary conviction from the state of Illinois, did not qualify as violent for purposes of the ACCA.

On appeal, the Eight Circuit began its analysis by noting, “A state conviction for burglary may only serve as an ACCA predicate offense if the scope of conduct it criminalizes is no broader than the generic definition of burglary set forth” by the U.S. Supreme Court, i.e., “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.” Looking closely at the Illinois statute, the Eighth Circuit determined that it exceeded the scope of this definition.

The decision turned on Illinois’ definition of a building. Because Illinois courts have held that a building, for purposes of the burglary statute, includes a detached semitrailer, a tent, a chicken house, and a telephone booth, its definition exceeded the Supreme Court’s generic definition. As such, an Illinois burglary cannot stand as a predicate “violent felony” for purposes of the ACCA.

Consequently, the Eighth Circuit vacated Byas’ sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing consistent with the Court’s opinion. See: United States v. Byas, 871 F.3d 841 (8th Cir 2017). 

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