It’s been a busy few days for the Supreme Court, with the historic ruling on same-sex marriage as well as a ruling in Johnson v. United States that dealt a blow to federal “Three Strikes” sentencing laws.
The Supreme Court heard the case against a clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act which calls for people to be sentenced to 15 years to life for cases in which they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.”
The problem with the clause, the Court found, was that it was incredibly vague, allowing for these felonies to be classified as anything that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” These include anything from drunk driving to failing to report to a parole officer.
The Court declared that the clause was unconstitutionally vague in its definition of what was “violent” and that therefore the law was imposing undue sentences on the people.
“Nine years’ experience trying to derive meaning from the residual clause convinces us that we have embarked upon a failed enterprise. Each of the uncertainties in the residual clause may be tolerable in isolation, but ‘their sum makes a task for us which at best could be only guesswork.’ United States v. Evans, 333 U. S. 483, 495 (1948). Invoking so shapeless a provision to condemn someone to prison for 15 years to life does not comport with the Constitution’s guarantee of due process,” said Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in the majority opinion for the case.