Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Vail-Balon: Mere touching is not a crime of violence

In U.S. v. Vail-Bailon, No. 15-10351 (Sept. 28, 2016) (2-1), the Court held that when it is committed by “mere touching,”Florida felony battery in violation of Fla. Sta. § 784.041 does not qualify as a “crime of violence” for purposes of U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2. The Court noted that § 784.041 is a “divisible” offense. Here, no Shepard-approved documents established under which alternative element Vail-Balon was convicted. The Court therefore assumed that he was convicted under for “actually and intentionally touching” a victim. Simple battery, under Florida law, contains the same touching element, and can be satisfied by any intentional physical contact, no matter how slight. But the elements clause of § 2L1.2 requires “violent force.” The Court noted that at oral argument Vail-Bailon asserted that a person can be guilty of felony battery in Florida if the offender taps another person on the shoulder at the top of stairs, and the person falls down the stairs and suffers grievous bodily harm. The government did not challenge that interpretation at oral argument. Such a crime does not involve the use of “violent force.” “Florida battery by mere touching cannot qualify as a ‘crime of violence,’ no matter what the injury resulting from the mere touching might turn out to be. Citing Leocal, which held that driving under the influence was not a crime of violence, the Court noted that an action that does not normally cause bodily harm, like touching, only qualifies as a “crime of violence” if the offender engages in it “with some type of intent to harm another.”