Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Davis: Alabama Sexual Abuse by Forcible Compulsion Does Not Satisfy ACCA's Elements Clause

In United States v. Davis, No. 16-10789 (Nov. 7, 2017) (Ed Carnes, Rosenbaum, Higginbotham), the Court "reluctantly" held that the Alabama offense of first degree sexual abuse by forcible compulsion did not satisfy the ACCA's elements clause.

The Court first found that the Alabama first-degree sexual abuse statute was divisible on its face, enumerating two separate crimes: sexual abuse by forcible compulsion, and sexual abuse of a person incapable of consent.  The defendant's plea colloquy revealed that he had been convicted of the former.  The Court, however, rejected the defendant's further argument that sexual abuse by forcible compulsion was itself divisible: although there are three ways that a defendant could engage in forcible compulsion, those were means, not elements, because the jury did not need to agree on which the defendant committed.'

Surveying Alabama law, the Court then concluded that sexual abuse by forcible compulsion did not necessary require the use of violent force under Curtis Johnson.  That was so because case law in Alabama made clear that one could commit the offense merely where an authority figure implies a threat of disciplinary action against a child, and not all such disciplinary actions involve violent force.  The Court noted that, although the defendant did not cite the key Alabama decision in the district court, he had sufficiently preserved his objection to the prior conviction, and a party does not forfeit an issue merely by failing to cite a specific case supporting that issue.  In a final footnote, the Court noted that its decision was consistent with the en banc decision in Vail-Bailon because, in that case, the defendant was relying on far-fetched non-violent hypotheticals that had never been prosecuted, whereas Alabama did actually prosecute sexual abuse involving authority figures threatening children.  Also, unlike this case, there was no state supreme court decision indicating that the state would apply to the non-violent scenarios.

Judge Rosenbaum concurred with the exception of the majority's final footnote discuss Vail-Bailon.  She reiterated her disagreement that the non-violent scenarios posited in Vail-Bailon were far-fetched, and that there was no state supreme court decision in that case supporting such an application.