Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Sanchez: New York Robbery and Murder Satisfy the ACCA's Elements Clause

In United States v. Sanchez, No. 18-10711 (Oct. 2, 2019) (Hull, Rosenbaum, Grant), the Court affirmed the defendant's ACCA sentence based on New York first-degree robbery and New  York second-degree murder.

As an initial matter, the Court synthesized recent decisions about the elements clause and explained that "physical force" means: 1) an act that is exerted by and through concrete bodies; and 2) that is directly or indirectly "capable" of causing pain or injury, in that it has the potential to do so.  Applying that standard, and agreeing with the Second and Fourth Circuits, the Court held that New York robbery satisfied the elements clause because it requires forcible stealing, which requires the defendant to use or threaten the immediate use of physical force.  The New York definition of forcible stealing largely tracked the elements clause and adopted the common law understanding of robbery, and it did not include robberies that could be committed by only a slight touching (like sudden snatching).  The Court found that Stokeling foreclosed the defendant's argument that robbery by blocking the victim did not satisfy the elements clause.

Second, the Court held that New York second-degree murder satisfied the elements clause because it required the intent to cause death to another person.   Relying on Castleman and Vail-Bailon, the Court reasoned that the intentional causation of bodily harm (or death) necessarily requires force "capable" of causing such harm.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that murder by poison did not satisfy the elements clause, as that argument was foreclosed by the Court's precedents.  And the Court rejected the defendant's argument that murder did not qualify because it could be committed by omission.  As a matter of state law, the Court found that failing to act where there is a duty to act constitutes an act or conduct itself, not an omission.  And intentionally withholding medical treatment or food would constitute indirect force satisfying the elements clause for the same reason as poisoning.

Finally, the Court rejected, on plain error, the statutory argument that the ACCA applies only when the defendant is convicted of 922(g) and another offense.