Lee Davis: 6th Circuit Court Of Appeals: Is Evading Arrest A Violent Felony?

Saturday, May 19, 2012 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
This case concerns whether a defendant’s prior conviction for evading arrest is a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). If it is the consequences for a subsequent federal conviction are large. Despite having previously ruled that evading arrest is a violent felony and then having the Supreme Court vacate the Sixth Circuit’s judgment, the Court ruled again that under Tennessee law it is a violent felony.

In this case, defendant David Earl Doyle was found by police in 2007 parked behind a church sleeping in a running vehicle. Deputies saw a pistol in the driver’s side door and a shotgun lying between the driver and his sleeping female companion.
The officers removed the weapons before arresting the two on various charges. A few weeks later a federal grand jury indicted Doyle and charged him as a felon in possession of a firearm, alterations to the barrel of a firearm (sawing off a shotgun), and possession of an unregistered firearm. Doyle pled guilty.

At sentencing the district court ruled Doyle was an armed career criminal (ACCA) under the guidelines because of his three prior convictions that qualified him for an enhanced sentence: aggravated assault, burglary and a Class E felony of evading arrest. The district court sentenced Doyle to 180 months on count one and 120 months for counts two and three, to run concurrently. 

Doyle agrees that his previous convictions for aggravated assault and burglary qualify as violent felonies under the ACCA. The issue is whether evading arrest qualifies as a violent felony. 

Under the ACCA a violent felony is “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that has as an element the use of physical force against another  “or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” Class E felony evading arrest can only be considered a violent felony under this catchall provision. 

The Sixth Circuit previously address just such a question in U.S. v. Rogers, holding that in Tennessee a Class E felony evading arrest is a “crime of violence” under the guidelines.  While Doyle claims Rogers was wrongly decided he does not attempt to distinguish a case that is otherwise identical to the fact pattern present here. Though Rogers was remanded by the Supreme Court no new opinion has been issued on the case and therefore the Supreme Court’s ruling has an undetermined impact.
The Court’s majority founds that the portion of the ACCA discussing “serious potential risk of physical injury to another” applies in this case. The Court says such potential risks to officers are always present in vehicular-flight cases. Such risk is inherent in such situations as flight is in defiance of police instructions and the vehicles can be used in a way to cause serious potential risks of injury to others. 

Despite what the Supreme Court wrote in Rogers, the Sixth Circuit has decided that nothing should cause a reconsideration of their holding in Rogers and that Class E felony evading arrest under Tennessee law is a violent felony under the ACCA.

To read the full opinion, click here.
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(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)

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