SCOTUS Declares Not All Gun Crimes Are Actually “Crimes of Violence”

Orhan Cam /

The Supreme Court makes some very unique decisions about the interpretation of the laws in the United States. Their rulings can shape the outcome of future cases for decades, and their word can quite literally become law because of how their view of a situation is interpreted. For a Virginia man, this is an absolute Godsend.

With a 7-2 decision rendered on June 21st, they decided that receiving a conviction for attempted robbery under the federal Hobbs Act isn’t what a “crime of violence,” is, and as a result, their sentence should not be enhanced due to firearm use.

The Hobbs Act is a federal law that made it a crime to obstruct or affect interstate commerce “by robbery or extortion” when “induced by the wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, and fear.” Or more simply put, when using a firearm or the threat of using a firearm to rob someone or to extort them into doing something.

The defendant in the case Justin Taylor, and other defendants who got an extra 5-10 years due to the Hobbs Act robbery enhancement can now challenge those rulings and sentences. Justice Neil Gorsuch issued the writing of the ruling for the majority. In it, he declared Thomas could have received 20 years for his conviction. However, Congress had “not authorized courts to convict and sentence him to a decade of further imprisonment.”

Justice Gorsuch almost seemed to serve as a critic of the separate dissents by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito with two separate footnotes concerning their dissents. He claimed the contention made by Thomas was something that “not even the prosecutors for whom Justice Thomas professes concern seek anything like that.” He then claimed that Alito brought up an argument that either party had “not whispered a word about.”

The premise for the entire ruling was based on a 2003 case, where Taylor conspired to rob a drug dealer. He started by making arrangements to sell marijuana to a man named Martin Sylvester. Instead of selling him the marijuana, though, Taylor and another co-conspirator tried to take Sylvester’s money. This nameless person then shot and killed Sylvester with a pistol. Taylor was charged with attempted and conspiracy to commit robbery under the Hobbs Act enhancement and convicted with this federal enhancement.

When it came time for court, Taylor pled guilty and got 30 years for his crimes. With that “crime of violence” enhancement on his charge, Taylor had received extra punishment despite not being the one holding the pistol or being behind the trigger. Taylor returned to court and made his argument that the charges no longer fit and that he should have one of his convictions overturned.

A district judge agreed with this as to the charge for conspiracy no longer made the grade for the enhanced charge, but given the nature of the attempted robbery, that one still fit. Going up the ladder, a federal appeals court completely reversed his sentencing. They noted that Taylor had not actually committed the robbery. As a result, they vacated his sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

What kind of America are we in where we are blaming others for the actions of one person? This case was akin to the passenger getting blamed for a DUI because he was having drinks with the drunk driver, and they both decided they needed Waffle House. How you can blame someone else for the irresponsible actions of another is something that should be beyond the comprehension of all Americans.

While they knew the robbery was going to happen, Taylor had no control over pulling the trigger. This ruling could have a huge impact on the second amendment going forward, and the ripple effect it could cast upon our court system could be monumental.