The Legality of Preventing Future Crime: Johnson v. United States

Author: Chris Gant, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

“Minority Report” is a futuristic science fiction film in which crime is thwarted before it takes place.[1] In the film, a specialized police department, “Precrime,” apprehends would-be murderers before the murder is committed. Clairvoyant “Precogs” indicate that someone will commit a murder and Precrime apprehends the would-be murderers. This sci-fi notion of preventing crime has found reality in modern law. Preventing crime is part of the rationale behind the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The ACCA imposes longer prison sentences on criminals with criminal histories in order to prevent future harm.[2] In Johnson v. United States, a case to be argued in front of the Supreme Court on April 20, 2015, the Court must determine what constitutes a “violent felony” under the ACCA, and in the process will clarify a circuit split on this issue. Furthermore, the Court’s decision will significantly impact individuals in situations similar to that of defendant Johnson across the country, whose prison sentences depend on the scope of what is considered a “violent felony.” The Eighth Circuit has decided that possession of a short-barreled shotgun is a violent felony, but the Supreme Court should reverse this decision and hold that mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun is not a violent felony.

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