As an initial matter, the Court rejected the government's argument that the defendant's guilty plea waived his argument on appeal that his convictions were not crimes of violence. As to the defendant's constitutional vagueness argument based on Johnson and the residual clause, the Court concluded that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Class confirmed that a guilty plea does not waive an argument that the offense is unconstitutional. As to the defendant's statutory argument under the elements clause, the Court re-affirmed its prior precedent that claims challenging the legal sufficiency of the government's affirmative allegations (as opposed to omissions) are jurisdictional and therefore not waived by a guilty plea.
As to Hobbs Act robbery, the Court concluded that it was a crime of violence under the residual clause, relying its decision in Ovalles. The Court also concluded that it was a crime of violence under the elements clause, relying on its prior SOS decisions in St. Fleur and Colon. The Court specifically held that its published SOS decisions constitute binding precedent that all subsequent panels are bound to follow, even in direct appeals.
As to attempted Hobbs Act robbery, the Court included a lengthy discussion about why it satisfied the elements clause analysis, relying heavily on its analysis in St. Fleur and Colon. During that analysis, the Court held that: the Hobbs Act is a divisible statute, with robbery and extortion constituting separate offenses; four circuits have concluded that Hobbs Act robbery satisfied the elements clause using the categorical approach and one did so using the modified categorical approach; contrary to the defendant's argument, the "fear or injury" component of Hobbs Act robbery necessarily required the threatened use of force, relying on its bank robbery precedents and emphasizing that there was no reported Hobbs Act robbery case that did not involve the threatened use of force; Curtis Johnson may be of "limited value" in the 924(c) context due to the textual differences between the elements clauses of 924(c) and ACCA; and attempted Hobbs Act robbery satisfies the elements clause because it requires the "attempted" use of force, relying on other circuits' ACCA cases holding that an attempt to commit a violent felony is itself a violent felony.
Although the Court recognized that, under its precedent, it was bound to apply the categorical approach, the Court included a favorable discussion of a Third Circuit decision applying the modified categorical approach in the 924(c) context. The Court agreed with the Third Circuit that, unlike in the ACCA context, it made more sense to apply the modified categorical approach in the 924(c) context, because the analysis focused on a charged offense, not a prior conviction. It nonetheless recognized that it was bound to apply the categorical approach.
Finally, the Court noted that it had denied the defendant's motion to stay the appeal pending the Supreme Court's forthcoming decision in Dimaya, because that decision would not impact the result "no matter the outcome." The Court identified three distinctions between 16(b), the statute at issue in Dimaya, and 924(c): 1) 16(b) applies to prior convictions, not contemporaneous charged offenses; 2) the categorical approach plays a more limited role in the 924(c) context than in the 16(b) (and ACCA) contexts, because it applies only to federal crimes; and 3) 924(c), unlike 16(b) and ACCA, does not require courts to discern some common cross-jurisdictional character for a variety of different predicate offenses.