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10th Circuit: Oklahoma’s Second-Degree Burglary Not an ACCA Qualifying Offense

by David Reutter

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held convictions for burglary under Oklahoma law do not qualify as violent felonies for sentence enhancement under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).

Raymond Hamilton was convicted of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. He was sentenced to 190 months’ imprisonment under ACCA, based in part on three second-degree burglary convictions from Oklahoma.

Hamilton moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing the district court applied the mandatory minimum based on the ACCA’s unconstitutional residual clause. The United States appealed after the district court granted the petition.

There was no dispute that Hamilton has a 1978 Oklahoma conviction for robbery with a firearm and a 1991 conviction for assault with deadly weapon that qualify as violent felonies under ACCA. The United States needed to identify one more violent felony conviction to trigger ACCA’s mandatory minimum, so it pointed to Hamilton’s second-degree burglary convictions in Oklahoma.

To qualify as a violent felony under ACCA, a violent felony must involve a violent felony under ACCA’s Elements Clause, the Enumerated Offense Clause, or the Residual Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), held the Residual Clause is unconstitutionally vague. The United States did not invoke the Elements Clause; instead, it argued the Oklahoma offense of second-degree burglary qualifies under the Enumerated Offense Clause because it meets the definition of generic burglary, which requires an “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in a building or other structure, with intent to commit to a crime.”

While the United States conceded in the district court that the Oklahoma statute reaches not only generic burglaries but also non-generic burglaries, it insisted the Oklahoma convictions involved generic burglaries.

To determine if a crime constitutes generic burglary, courts use the categorical approach, which requires a determination of whether the prior conviction matches the elements of a generic burglary. The United States’ argument required the Court to also determine whether Hamilton necessarily admitted the elements of an offense that would constitute a generic burglary, i.e., the modified categorical approach.

The latter approach is only permissible if the statute is divisible. In other words, it must provide multiple, alternative versions of the crime. The statute must constitute elements rather than means. Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016). The Court explained that elements “are the parts of a statute that the prosecution must prove, and means “are alternative factual methods of committing a single element.”

Thus, the Court stated that “we must determine whether the locational alternatives in the Oklahoma statute for second-degree burglary constitute elements or means.” In distinguishing between the two, it may consider: (1) state-court opinions, (2) the text of the statute, and (3) the record of conviction.

As Oklahoma’s second-degree burglary has “locational alternatives” that comprise means rather elements, the Court held Hamilton was not subject to the Enumerated Offense Clause.

The conclusion was reached by considering state court opinions, the statue itself, and the record of conviction. In the end, the Court remained “uncertain over whether the locational alternatives constitute elements or means,” so it stated that it “must treat the Oklahoma statute as indivisible.” With the modified categorical approach ruled inapplicable, the Court concluded the ACCA mandatory minimum could only be based “on the constitutionally infirm Residual Clause.”

Accordingly, the Court concluded that since “the Residual Clause is unconstitutionally vague, we affirm the grant of Mr. Hamilton’s § 2255 motion.” See: United States v. Hamilton, 889 F.3d 688 (10th Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Hamilton



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