A state-court conviction for evading arrest constituted a “violent felony” that required a sentencing enhancement in a federal firearms case, according to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. United States v. Standberry, No. 12-50827, slip op. (5th Cir., Apr. 23, 2013). The defendant had challenged the court’s sentence, arguing that the evading arrest conviction was not a “violent felony” within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). He cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court case reviewing an evading arrest statute, but the Fifth Circuit was persuaded by its own precedent, which holds that evading arrest in a vehicle meets the statutory definition of a violent felony.
The defendant pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Federal law prohibits people with felony convictions, defined as any offense with a possible punishment of more than one year in prison, from possessing a firearm or ammunition. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The ACCA imposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of fifteen years for a person convicted of violating § 922(g)(1) and who has at least three “violent felony” convictions. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The statute defines “violent felony” as an offense punishable by more than one year in prison that involves, in part, the actual, attempted, or threatened use of force against a person, or that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury” to a person other than the defendant. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B).
The trial court sentenced the defendant to fifteen years’ imprisonment based on his prior conviction history. Standberry, slip op. at 2. One of the prior convictions was for evading arrest using a vehicle, which is a third-degree felony under Texas law. Tex. Pen. Code § 38.04(b)(2)(A). The defendant appealed, arguing that the evading arrest conviction was not a “violent felony.” He cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Sykes v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2267 (2011), which he claimed established the importance of using an actual motor vehicle during the act of evading arrest. The Texas evading arrest statute, he argued, did not limit “vehicle” to motor vehicles, but rather used a broad definition that included bicycles and mopeds. Texas Trans. Code § 541.201.
The Fifth Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument. It found that Sykes had not overruled the Fifth Circuit’s precedent case, United States v. Harriman, 568 F.3d 531 (5th Cir. 2009), which held that evading arrest in a “vehicle” constitutes a “violent felony” because of the “serious risk of injury to others.” Standberry, slip op. at 2, citing Harriman, 568 F.3d at 536. The court in Harriman held that evading arrest in a vehicle is a violent offense even if the defendant did not use an automobile. Id. at 3.
Police, prosecutors, and courts are obligated to respect the constitutional rights of defendants in criminal cases. For over twenty years, board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of west Texas defendants. Prior to starting his career in criminal defense, he worked as an FBI agent and a prosecutor. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.
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