Good lord. The erosion of liberty continues to accelerate. Consider the case of Chambers v. United States.  SCOTUS is weighing in on the case of a defendant who failed to appear for confinement and was subsequently charged with committing a “violent” crime under the Armed Career Criminal Act.  The justices listened to arguments as to whether the act of failure to appear for confinement is an aggressive or a passive act and whether it should contribute to a felony escape charge.

“Deondery Chambers, who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, had prior convictions for drug distribution and for robbery and battery. He challenged whether his conviction under an Illinois escape law for failure to report for confinement was a violent felony that supplied the third predicate conviction for enhancement of his sentence under the ACCA.” [Laurel Newby, Law.com]

The attorney for the defendant asserted that failure to appear does not constitute a violent crime. However-

“Assistant to the Solicitor General Matthew D. Roberts argued, however, that failure to report carries the risk of violent confrontation between the defendant and police officers who may come to bring the defendant into custody. He compared it to burglary — an enumerated offense under the ACCA — calling it ‘purposeful, violent, and aggressive in the same way as burglary.'” [Laurel Newby, Law.com]

To his credit, Justice Scalia commented in a very reasonable manner-

“Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that Chambers was serving his sentence only on the weekends. “[I]t’s not common sense that the person who has been guilty of a crime so gentlemanly that they only made him report to prison on the weekends would confront the policeman with violence when he comes.”

“This guy doesn’t sound to me like Jack the Ripper. He really doesn’t,” Scalia said. [Laurel Newby, Law.com]

Obviously the defendant is not a choir boy. He must serve his sentence and suffer some consequence for failure to appear. 

“Statistics show that the number of robberies increases during the holiday season,” Chief Justice Roberts pointed out. The audience in the courtroom laughed.

“There is no indication, Mr. Chief Justice, that any further robberies were committed [by Chambers] during that period,” Hochman said.

“Well, there is no indication he meant to spend time with his family over the holidays,” the chief justice retorted.” [Laurel Newby, Law.com]

What makes the situation so disturbing is the glee with which an aggressive organ of the state exhibits in asserting that a passive violation can be equated to a jail escape and can thus carry the threat of a felony conviction. Most disturbing is the comment by the Assistant to the Solicitor- “failure to report carries the risk of violent confrontation between the defendant and police officers who may come to bring the defendant into custody“.

What!!?? Because there may be future risk to a police officer, the defendant should be charged with a felony? Excuse me?? This sounds like the movie Minority Report.

There should be a consequence for Chambers inaction, but the assertion that it was a type of violent act is wildly out of line and sets a terrible precedent for civil liberties.

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