Friday, March 31, 2006

Attempted Assault-2d under New York Law Qualifies as "Violent Felony" under ACCA

United States v. Walker, Docket No. 05-3851-cr (2d Cir. March 30, 2006) (Straub, Sack, Trager (by desig'n)) (per curiam): Not much to this opinion, which holds that a conviction in New York State for attempted assault in the second degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 110/120.05(2), qualifies as a conviction for a "violent felony" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) & (e)(2)(B), and thus can serve as one of the three required predicates triggering the 15-year minimum under the ACCA. The statutory language seems to fit, Op. 3-4, [but see "Comments" below] and Congress can enact dumb laws if it so wishes.

The Circuit also quickly rejects Walker's argument that his conviction should not be counted as an ACCA predicate because New York's own definition of "violent felony" (for purposes of its sentencing laws) does not include attempted assault-2d: "Congress chose to define 'violent felony' by reference to the elements of the offense of conviction rather than to the status of that offense within the relvant state law." Op. 4 (emphases in original).


Anonymous Brad said...

The court is probably right that the conduct prohibited by 120.05(2)presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another under 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). But the court's conclusion that the attempted causation of physical injury "is necessarily [an] (attempt to) use 'physical force'" seems contrary to the Second Circuit's decision in Chrzanoski v. Ashcroft, 327 F.3d 188, 195 (2003), which held that "the intentional causation of injury does not necessarily involve the use of force." Chrzanoski was interpreting a different statute (18 U.S.C. s 16(a) rather than 924(e)(2)(B)(i)), but the force element language is nearly identical in the two statutes. This oversight obviously doesn't affect the outcome in this case, but it's something to watch out for.

April 3, 2006 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Yuanchung Lee said...

A very astute comment. However, I surmise that the key here, and one that distinguishes this case from Chrzanoski (though not explained in the opinion), is that NY Penal L. 120.05(2) specifically involves the intent to cause physical injury "by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument." The CT statute at issue in Chrzanoski was similar to subsection (1) of 120.05 -- simply, intentionally causing physical injury. And while one may intentionally cause physical injury without the required "use of physical force," (e.g., "by guile, deception, or even deliberate omission," 327 F.3d at 195), it makes less sense to say that one can intentionally cause physical injury by means of a deadly weapon without the "use of physical force." Maybe, but it's hard to posit a counter-example.

In any event, you are certainly right that the stronger basis for the Court's holding here is 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). Surely conduct that falls w/in 120.05(2) is "conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."

April 3, 2006 at 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

I don't think the deadly weapon element in 120.05(2) makes Chrzanoski's reasoning distinguishable. For example, setting a spring-gun that shoots someone when they open a door sounds like it would constitute causing bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon. Arranging the trap requires force in a physics or engineering sense, but the perpetrator hasn't used physical force to cause the injury. Or think of cartoon-type violence: arranging for a piano to fall on someone's head when they stand on a giant X on the sidewalk.

Granted, some of the examples can get fairly outlandish, but I don't think the intentional use of a deadly weapon to cause the injury is any different, for purposes of the use-of-force analysis, from intentionally causing the injury by some other non-deadly-weapon means.

But again, this is more relevant to crime-of-violence definitions (see, e.g., U.S.S.G. s 2L1.2, comment. (n.1(B)(iii))) that don't have "catch-all" language as broad as that found in 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

April 3, 2006 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Yuanchung Lee said...

Good points.

And regardless of the merits of the argument, what a shoddy opinion not to have even addressed the issue. I guess that's why it's a per curiam -- no one wants to take responsibility for it.

April 4, 2006 at 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

Thinking of Tom & Jerry cartoons made me laugh.

After reading all the comments, I have only one response: Chrzanoski was wrongly decided and its discussion of how killing by "guile" is not killing with "force" is outright bizarre. I guess there's an argument that convincing someone to stand underneath a falling piano isn't killing with "force." But if you've arranged for the piano to drop, then convicing the person through "guile" to stand on the spot where the piano will fall seems like sufficient "physical force" to me!

April 21, 2006 at 4:46 PM  

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