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Supreme Court reverses 'crime of violence' circuit court decision

Supreme Court reverses 'crime of violence' circuit court decision
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Tuesday in favor of a Virginia man convicted in a robbery, allowing him to appeal a certain part of his sentence with the majority opinion written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. File Pool photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

June 21 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, in favor of a Virginia man convicted in a robbery, allowing him to appeal a certain part of his sentence.

In a 7-2 vote, the court reversed a ruling by the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., that originally allowed prosecutors to tack on an additional five to 10 years onto sentences for people convicted of using a gun in an attempted robbery.

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Justin Taylor was initially convicted following a failed robbery of a marijuana dealer in 2003. During the attempted robbery, Taylor's accomplice shot and killed the dealer and both men left without retrieving any money. Taylor helped plan the robbery, but did carry a firearm and did not shoot the victim.

He was originally charged with attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery under the Hobbs Act. The act punishes robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

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A "crime of violence" automatically triggers stiffer sentences, but Tuesday's ruling means attempted robbery convictions under the Hobbs Act do not meet the criteria to qualify as a "crime of violence," because the offense does not require proof the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force.

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Taylor is now free to appeal that portion of his sentence.

"Mr. Taylor may be lawfully subject to up to 20 years in federal prison for his Hobbs Act conviction. But as the Fourth Circuit recognized, Congress has not authorized courts to convict and sentence him to a decade of further imprisonment under § 924(c)(3)(A)," Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court's majority opinion.

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Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

"The offense for which respondent Justin Taylor was convicted constituted a "violent felony" in the ordinary sense of the term," Alito wrote in his separate dissenting opinion.

"I would hold that Taylor committed a 'crime of violence' within the meaning of §924(c)(3)(A) and reverse the judgment of the Fourth Circuit."

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