Proximate Causation and the Armed Career Criminal Act
13 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 18, 2015
The Armed Career Criminal Act provides for a fifteen-year minimum sentence for those who illegally possess firearms and have been convicted of three or more violent felonies or serious drug offenses. The ACCA defines a "violent felony" to include the following crimes: "burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." This last provision is known as the residual clause.
This Comment argues that the primary difficulty in creating a workable residual clause jurisprudence has been one of proximate causation: identifying how close the relationship must be between the offense and the ultimate risk of physical injury. Many preparatory and inchoate crimes (e.g., conspiracy) do not by themselves place people in physical danger, even if the commission of those crimes could lead to further conduct that will. By limiting application of the residual clause to only those crimes that themselves present a serious potential risk of physical injury -- without considering the risk caused by future volitional acts -- the Supreme Court can create a reasonably precise construction of the residual clause.
Keywords: Fifth Amendment, vague, due process, Armed Career Criminal Act, proximate causation
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation