Ranier: Eleventh Circuit Departs From Recent ACCA Cases and Holds That Prior Conviction for Third Degree Felony Burglary in Alabama Qualifies as ACCA Predicate Violent Felony if Conviction was Based on Generic Elements

September 8, 2010 by Kish & Lietz

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in U.S. v. Ranier. In contrast to many recent cases in which the Court held that certain crimes were not “violent felonies” for the purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA,) the Court held in Ranier that the defendant’s prior conviction in Alabama for third degree felony burglary qualified as a predicate offense.

In the wake of Begay v. U.S., in which the Supreme Court held that “violent felonies” for the purposes of the ACCA must be similar in kind and degree to the crimes expressly listed in the statute, the courts have been hammering out which crimes do and do not qualify. We have discussed several of these cases in the following posts:
Harris (second degree felony eluding police with wanton disregard for safety is a violent felony, although third degree felony willful fleeing is not – 11th Cir.)
Lee (walkaway escapes are not violent felonies – 11th Cir.)
Chambers (failure to report is not a violent felony – Supreme Court)
Archer and Hunter (carrying a concealed weapon is not a violent felony – 11th Cir.)

The Court’s analysis in Ranier hinged on the elements of Alabama’s burglary statute and the specific facts of Mr. Ranier’s previous convictions. Burglary is a listed violent felony in the ACCA, but Alabama’s third degree felony burglary statute is broader than the “generic” burglary contemplated by the ACCA. In Alabama, a person can be convicted for burgling a vehicle, aircraft, or boat, so the Court held the statute “non-generic.”

After making the non-generic determination, the Court looked to Mr. Ranier’s specific convictions for burgling a gas station and a shoe store. Mr. Ranier argued that those businesses theoretically could have been operated out of vehicles, but the Court rejected that argument. “[T]hat possibility is too farfetched to undermine our conviction that Ranier’s two previous convictions were for burglary of a building in the generic burglary sense of the word. The Supreme Court has instructed us that the ‘ACCA does not require metaphysical certainty.’ The ACCA is part of the real world, and courts should not refuse to apply it because of divorced-from-reality, law-school-professor-type hypotheticals that bear no resemblance to what actually goes on.”

The Court’s opinion in U.S. v Ranier is available here.

In other ACCA-related news, we previously reported in this post that the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in Abbott v. U.S. and Gould v. U.S. Those cases, which involve mandatory minimums in federal firearms cases, have been scheduled for oral argument on October 4, 2010.