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Paul, Weiss Argues Supreme Court Case on Behalf of Pro Bono Client Challenging Interpretation of Federal Sentencing Statute

In a Supreme Court appeal with important implications for criminal procedure and due process rights, Paul, Weiss conducted oral arguments on behalf of a pro bono client, Charles Borden Jr., challenging the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The ACCA mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for defendants convicted of certain federal offenses who have three prior violent felony convictions. Our client, who had three prior convictions for aggravated assault before his conviction for possession of a firearm and who was sentenced under the ACCA, has asked the Supreme Court to determine whether a “violent felony” under the ACCA includes crimes in which an individual used force recklessly.

The law, often criticized as overly harsh, is applied each year to defendants in hundreds of criminal cases nationwide. Parts of the statute have been subject to Supreme Court review numerous times since it was enacted in its current form in 1986.

In our arguments and our underlying petition, we assert that the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed our client’s sentence, incorrectly held that a crime committed with a mens rea of recklessness constitutes a violent felony because the mental state of recklessness does not involve the intent necessary to satisfy the requirement of using force “against the person of another.” The U.S. government, as respondent, counters that a mens rea of recklessness satisfies the element because the focus is on the “use” of the physical force, which does not discern between mental states.

Paul, Weiss originally represented another pro bono cert petitioner, James Walker, in a case presenting the same question. However, after Mr. Walker passed away shortly after the cert petition, the Court granted review in Mr. Borden’s case and we were asked by the Public Defender’s Office to become involved.

The Paul, Weiss team was led by litigation partner Kannon Shanmugam and included litigation associates Stacie Fahsel, Nicholas Handler, Samuel Prose, Jessica Morton, Amanda Valerio and Alexander Jones

November 3, 2020

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