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Court: Fleeing police can be third strike

June 9, 2011 at 11:23 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday ruled 6-3 that fleeing from police can be considered a violent felony when sentencing a defendant to a more lengthy prison term.

When Marcus Sikes pleaded guilty in Indiana to being a felony in possession of a firearm, he had at least three prior convictions for felonies -- including using a vehicle to flee from a law enforcement officer.

The federal Armed Career Criminal Act provides for a 15-year prison term when a convicted defendant has three prior "violent felony" convictions. Using the law, a federal judge sentenced Sikes to 15 years, even though he argued fleeing from police was not really a violent felony.

But the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the judge and a federal appeals court that Indiana law describes flight from police as a violent felony for the purposes of the federal law.

"When a perpetrator flees police in a car, his determination to elude capture makes a lack of concern for the safety of others an inherent part of the offense," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. " ... His indifference to these collateral consequences has violent -- even lethal -- potential for others."

One of the dissenters, Justice Antonin Scalia, said it was the fourth time since 2007 the high court has tried to distinguish what are "'violent felonies' under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act ... from other crimes. ...

"As was perhaps predictable, instead of producing a clarification of the Delphic residual clause, today's opinion produces a fourth ad hoc judgment that will sow further confusion," Scalia added. "Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Four times is enough. We should admit that ACCA's residual provision is a drafting failure and declare it void for vagueness."

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