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United States v. Burris

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 18, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
LATROY LEON BURRIS, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before WIENER, GRAVES, and HO, Circuit Judges. [1]

          WIENER, Circuit Judge

         Defendant-Appellant Latroy Leon Burris pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which provides for an increased sentence if the defendant has been convicted of three prior violent felonies. Burris contends that he was not eligible for the increase because his prior Texas conviction for robbery was not a violent felony. We agree with Burris, and hold that the Texas robbery statute underlying one of his prior convictions does not have "use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force" as an element. We therefore vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         In July 2016, Burris pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(C).[2] The presentence investigation report (PSR) determined that Burris was an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), viz., the ACCA. A defendant is an armed career criminal if he (1) is convicted of violating § 922(g), as Burris undoubtedly was, and (2) has three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses.[3] If a defendant meets these criteria, he is subject to a minimum sentence of fifteen years imprisonment.[4]

         The PSR states that Burris had three prior convictions qualifying him for the ACCA: (1) a 1993 Texas conviction for robbery, (2) a 1993 Texas conviction for aggravated robbery, and (3) a 2012 Texas conviction for manufacturing/delivering a controlled substance. When he pleaded guilty, Burris disputed that he qualified for the enhanced penalties of the ACCA. After the probation office issued the PSR, Burris objected, insisting that his convictions for robbery and aggravated robbery do not qualify for the ACCA.[5]The district court ultimately adopted the findings of the PSR, concluding that Burris's prior convictions for robbery and aggravated robbery did qualify him for the ACCA's enhancement. The court then sentenced him to 188 months in custody, a sentence at the low end of the applicable guidelines range. Burris timely appealed, challenging the district court's ruling that his Texas convictions for robbery and aggravated robbery were "violent felonies." After Burris filed his opening brief, another panel of this court held that the version of aggravated robbery for which Burris was convicted is a violent felony under the ACCA.[6] Burris now concedes that his aggravated robbery conviction qualifies as a violent felony, [7] so this appeal now concerns only whether Burris's conviction for simple robbery qualifies as a violent felony.

         II. Standard of Review

         The government acknowledges that Burris preserved his objection in the district court. We therefore review de novo the district court's conclusion that his simple robbery conviction was a violent felony under the ACCA.[8]

         III. Discussion

         A. The Relevant Statutes

         The ACCA defines a "violent felony, " in relevant part, as:

[A]ny crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . that-
(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another[.][9]

         Before the Supreme Court's decision in Samuel Johnson v. United States, [10]Texas robbery was considered a violent felony under the second part of clause (ii), known as the "residual clause, " because it "involve[d] conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."[11] In Samuel Johnson, however, the Court struck down the residual clause as unconstitutionally vague.[12] Consequently, robbery is a violent felony under the ACCA if it has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of "physical force."

         B. The Elements of Texas Robbery

         Texas robbery is defined in § 29.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code as follows:

A person commits an offense if, in the course of committing theft . . . and with intent to obtain or maintain control of the property, he:
(1) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; or
(2)intentionally or knowingly threatens or places another in fear of imminent bodily injury or death.[13]

         For today's purpose, we refer to the alternatives delineated by subparts (1) and (2) as "robbery-by-injury" and "robbery-by-threat." This court has never addressed whether § 29.02(a) is indivisible or divisible[14]-that is, whether robbery-by-injury and robbery-by-threat are (1) different crimes or (2) a single crime that can be committed by two different means.[15] We need not decide that issue here, however, because our analysis under either outcome would be the same.

         If § 29.02(a) is indivisible, the court "focus[es] solely on whether the elements of the crime of conviction" include the use of force.[16] Therefore, if either robbery-by-injury or robbery-by-threat does not require the use of force, robbery is not a violent felony.

         On the other hand, if § 29.02(a) is divisible, "we isolate the alternative under which the defendant was convicted, " then determine whether force is an element of that particular offense.[17] To do so, courts may "look 'to a limited class of documents . . . to determine what crime, with what elements, a defendant was convicted of.'"[18]

         Burris's conviction documents do not specify whether he was convicted of robbery-by-injury or robbery-by-threat. His indictment states that he caused injury, but it charges him with aggravated robbery. We cannot look to the indictment to narrow the subsection of conviction if it indicts Burris for a crime other than the one to which he pleaded guilty.[19] The only exception to this rule does not apply here because the conviction documents do not reference the lesser-included offense to that of the indictment.[20] Because we cannot ascertain the variant of robbery for which Burris was convicted, we must analyze both robbery-by-injury and robbery-by-threat, even if § 29.02(a) is divisible. This is why we need not decide here whether robbery is divisible or indivisible.[21]

         We first address robbery-by-injury. If a defendant can "cause bodily injury" without "using force, " then the Texas robbery statute-or at least its robbery-by-injury prong-does not have use of force as an element.[22] As explained below, we conclude that a person can "cause bodily injury" without using force, so Burris's conviction under § 29.02(a) is not a violent felony.

         C. A Plethora of Precedent

         As an initial matter, we note that another panel of this court, in an unpublished, one-sentence opinion, recently affirmed a district court's ruling that Texas robbery is not a violent felony under the ACCA.[23] Even though that holding does not bind us, relevant authority has evolved in recent years. We find it helpful to recount that evolution here.

         1. The En Banc Court Answers Our Question

         Texas defines "bodily injury" as "physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition."[24] Our court has previously considered whether this broad definition of bodily injury requires physical force. In United States v. Vargas-Duran, the en banc court considered whether the Texas crime of "intoxication assault, " which requires the defendant to have "cause[d] serious bodily injury to another" was a "crime of violence" under United States Sentencing Guideline ("U.S.S.G.") § 2L1.2, which "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another."[25] The en banc court held that it did not, for two reasons. First, the court explained, the Texas statute does not require that the defendant have the state of mind needed to "use" force: "the fact that the statute requires that serious bodily injury result . . . does not mean that the statute requires that the defendant have used the force that caused the injury."[26] Second, the court added that "[t]here is also a difference between a defendant's causation of an injury and the defendant's use of force."[27]

         We reiterated this difference in United States v. Villegas-Hernandez, when we considered whether the Texas crime of assault-requiring that one "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause[] bodily injury" or threaten to do so-was an "aggravated felony" under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(C).[28] Aggravated felonies also must have an element of "use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force."[29] We held that Texas's assault offense did not have use or threatened use of physical force as an element.[30] The panel approvingly cited Vargas-Duran's explanation that "[t]here is . . . a difference between a defendant's causation of an injury and the defendant's use of force."[31] The panel listed examples of acts that could cause bodily injury without physical force: "making available to the victim a poisoned drink while reassuring him the drink is safe, or telling the victim he can safely back his car out while knowing an approaching car driven by an independently acting third party will hit the victim."[32]

         2. The Supreme Court Weighs In

         Looking solely at this precedent, Vargas-Duran would compel the holding that a person may "cause bodily injury" per Texas law without using "physical force" per federal law. But the Supreme Court has recently decided three cases that are related to the issue before us. First, in Curtis Johnson v. United States, the Court interpreted the phrase "physical force" within the ACCA. The Court noted that the common law definition of "force" can be "satisfied by even the slightest offensive touching."[33] But the Court held that the common law definition of force did not apply to the ACCA; in the ACCA context, "the phrase 'physical force' means violent force-that is, force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person."[34] The Court relied heavily on the use of "physical force" in the context of a "violent felony": "When the adjective 'violent' is attached to the noun 'felony, ' its connotation of strong physical force is even clearer."[35]

         Second, and more recently, the Court decided United States v. Castleman, in which it considered the term "physical force" in the context of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" (MCDV). A MCDV is defined using identical language to the ACCA: it "has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force."[36] But the Court distinguished "physical force" in the MCDV context from "physical force" in the ACCA, as defined in Curtis Johnson. The Court held that in the context of a MCDV, "physical force" is defined as "the common-law meaning of 'force, '" which can be satisfied by mere offensive touching.[37] In making this distinction, the Court relied on the differences between the two contexts in which the term "physical force" arises: "[W]hereas the word 'violent' or 'violence' standing alone 'connotes a substantial degree of force, ' that is not true of 'domestic violence.' 'Domestic violence' is not merely a type of 'violence'; it is a term of art encompassing acts that one might not characterize as 'violent' in a nondomestic context."[38]

         Applying this common-law definition of "physical force, " the Court held that the defendant's conviction for "caus[ing] bodily injury" to the mother of his child categorically qualified as a MCDV.[39] In doing so, the Court explained that "the knowing or intentional causation of bodily injury necessarily involves the use of physical force" in the MCDV context.[40] The Court added that "the common-law concept of 'force' encompasses even its indirect application, " such as poisoning a victim.[41] Importantly, though, the Court expressly declined to reach the question "[w]hether or not the causation of bodily injury necessarily entails violent force."[42] Neither did the Court decide the question whether minor injuries, such as a "cut, abrasion, [or] bruise . . . . necessitate violent force, under [Curtis] Johnson's definition of that phrase."[43]

         Even more recently, the Court decided Voisine v. United States, which concerned the meaning of "use" rather than "physical force." Like Castleman, Voisine arose in the context of an MCDV.[44] Specifically, the Court considered whether a person could recklessly "use" physical force-in the context of an MCDV-or if such "use" required knowledge or intent.[45] The Court held that there was no requirement of intent or knowledge: A person can "use" force while acting recklessly.[46] The Court added that use of force does require a "volitional" action; by contrast, involuntary or accidental movements are not uses of force in the context of a MCDV.[47]

         3. The Impact Of Castleman and Voisine

         The crux of the government's contention is that Castleman, an MCDV case, should apply to ACCA/violent felony cases. But prior panels of this court have determined that, while Voisine's holding applies outside of the MCDV context, Castleman's does not.

         First, in United States v. Howell and United States v. Mendez-Henriquez, this court adopted Voisine's holding in the context of a "crime of violence" under two sentencing guidelines.[48] Those cases effectively abrogated the first part of Vargas-Duran, which had held that "using" force requires a mental state of intent.[49] We have treated the definition of crime of violence in those guidelines "interchangeably" with the definition of violent felony in the ACCA.[50] Thus, to "use" force under the ACCA, a person must only act volitionally; a statute need not have an intent requirement for that offense to "use" force and qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA.

         This court has also held, in two published decisions, that-unlike Voisine-Castleman's holding does not apply outside of the MCDV context. In United States v. Rico-Mejia, this court acknowledged the rule from Villegas-Hernandez, and other cases stemming from Vargas-Duran, that "a person could cause physical injury without using physical force."[51] The Rico-Mejia panel acknowledged Castleman, but held that "[b]y its express terms, Castleman's analysis is not applicable to the physical force requirement for a crime of violence[.] . . . Accordingly, Castleman does not disturb this court's precedent regarding the characterization of crimes of violence[.]"[52]

          D. Causing Injury Without Using Force

         The government maintains that Vargas-Duran does not control. It first argues that because Voisine applies outside the MCDV context, Castleman must as well; as a result, the government contends, Rico-Mejia was wrongly decided because it conflicts with the earlier decisions in Howell and Mendez-Henriquez. Second, the government insists that Castleman overruled our precedent that causing injury captures more conduct than using force.

         But we need not rely on the line of cases constituted by, e.g., Vargas-Duran, Villegas-Hernandez, and Rico-Mejia. Even if the government is correct that Vargas-Duran and its line of cases no longer control, we nevertheless reverse because there are other examples of how a person may cause injury without using physical force. Specifically, Burris contends that causing a minor injury, such as a bruise, meets the ...


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