SCOTUS Opinion: Reckless Action Does Not Qualify As “Violent Felony” Under Armed Career Criminal Act

The Armed Career Criminal Act permits a longer jail sentence for those found guilty three or more times of a prior “violent felony,” which is defined as a crime that involves “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” The Court had previously decided that crimes of negligence lacked the necessary mens rea to qualify under the Act. In Borden v. United States, the issue was whether a crime involving recklessness—here, reckless aggravated assault—qualified as a violent felony for sentence enhancement under the Act.

The Sixth Circuit held that it did, but the Court, in a divided 5-4 opinion, reversed. Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Gorsuch, argued that a crime “against another” must be intentionally directed, while reckless action is not so directed. The purpose of the Act was to punish those who pose a special danger to others, and not those who are merely callous to risk. Justice Thomas, who dissented in earlier decisions leading up to Borden, agreed that reckless behavior did not qualify as a “violent felony” under the Act because the “use of physical force” requires intent to cause harm, but noted that the Act did, in fact, define recklessness as a violent felony before the Court erroneously ruled otherwise in the past. Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Barrett, dissented, arguing that reckless behavior constitutes a “deliberate decision to endanger another” that should qualify under the Act.

A link to the decision is here: