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Shepard v. United States

Case Name
Shepard v. United States
544 U.S. 13
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
David Souter
Judge(s) - Majority
David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas
Judge(s) - Concur
Clarence Thomas
Judge(s) - Dissent
Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
1st Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm. The government sought to increase his sentence from between thirty and thirty-seven months to the fifteen-year mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) because defendant had four prior convictions entered upon guilty pleas. The government asked the district court to consider police reports to determine whether defendant’s earlier pleas necessarily admitted and supported conviction for generic burglary, but the court refused. With circuits splitting on the issue, the Court determined that sentencing courts are not permitted to use police reports or complaint applications in reaching their decision. Courts must adhere to the requirement that any sentence under the ACCA depends upon a showing that prior convictions “necessarily” involved facts equating to generic burglary. Consistent with the Court’s holding in Taylor v. United States, courts are limited to examining the statutory definition of the prior offenses, charging documents, jury instructions, written plea agreements, transcripts of plea colloquy, convictions, explicit factual findings by the trial judge to which the defendant agreed, and comparable judicial records. In its search for more competent evidence and a new national standard for applying the ACCA, the government’s proposition impermissibly extends Taylor.

Key Quote

“The rule of reading statutes to avoid serious risks of unconstitutionality . . . therefore counsels us to limit the scope of judicial factfinding on the disputed generic character of a prior plea, just as Taylor constrained judicial findings about the generic implication of a jury’s verdict.” p.25–26