The Supreme Court issued a ruling this week in a case out of Indiana. At question was whether fleeing from the police was considered a violent felony and therefore could be used to sentence a defendant under the Armed Career Criminal Act.
According to the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law, if someone is convicted for three violent felonies, they are to be subject to a 15 year mandatory minimum prison sentence. The defendant in the case had two prior violent felonies and his third conviction was for fleeing from police on a vehicle.
The Supreme Court ruled, in a 6 to 3 decision, that fleeing from the police in a vehicle did, in fact, constitute a violent felony, subjecting the defendant to the mandatory minimum sentence.
Though the Armed Career Criminal Act is a federal law, several states have similar laws on the books. The infamous Three Strikes laws are another example of cumulative convictions carrying harsher penalties.
In this case the Court’s majority determined that fleeing from the police in a vehicle puts the public and the police at risk. While not all of the justices agreed, the majority opinion stated that for every 100 vehicle pursuits, there are 4 injuries. Justice Scalia said the majority used statistics that had not “been tested in the adversary process” according to the New York Times.
Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed with the ruling on other grounds, saying that Indiana had two other, more serious offenses under the same statute the defendant was charged under. These included flight from police that created a risk of serious injury. But because the defendant wasn’t charged with these more serious, violent offenses, they determined he should not be penalized for a violent offense.
Regardless, the majority ruling stands.
Automobiles are a potentially dangerous weapon and many criminal laws recognize them as such. Charges like Battery can be elevated to a Class C felony when there is a deadly weapon involved. In cases like this, a car would qualify as that deadly weapon.
This same rationale is used in making the penalties for drunk driving so severe. It’s the risk of hurting or killing someone that makes offenses like this so serious. Even if no injury occurs, you are still penalized for the possibility.
Whether you are charged with drunk driving or battery involving a deadly weapon, a criminal defense attorney can help.