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Supreme Court hears first cases with Justice Kavanaugh

Hartford Courant 2018-10-09 11:30:00

Justice Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court for the first time Tuesday morning when the justices hear a pair of low-profile disputes over the federal law that imposes between 15 years and life in prison to someone who qualifies as an “armed career criminal.”

At issue is not a provision of the U.S. Constitution, but rather how to apply a harsh but vague law adopted by Congress in 1986. It calls for the extra prison time for criminals who have three “violent felonies” on their record. However, the law does not carefully define what state crimes count as violent felonies.

Denard Stokeling, a Florida man, argues that his 20-year-old conviction for “unarmed robbery” for snatching a woman’s necklace should not be deemed a violent felony. Government lawyers disagree and argue “robbery by sudden snatching” involves a use of physical force.

In the second case, Jason Sims, an Arkansas man, argues that breaking into an unoccupied mobile home should not qualify as a violent felony. In the past, judges have ruled that breaking into a home counts as a violent crime, but not breaking into a vehicle.

Were it not for the new justice, these cases would not draw much attention. But any words or comments from Kavanaugh are likely to be noted and scrutinized.

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