The Armed Career Criminal Act and United States Sentencing Guidelines prescribe sentence enhancements based upon a defendant’s prior convictions. In particular, these federal sentencing tools contain violent felony provisions that outline the requirements a state criminal statute must satisfy for a conviction to constitute a violent felony, making the convicted person eligible for a federal sentence enhancement. However, the Supreme Court’s holdings in Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133 (2010) and Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) severely limited the scope of both sentencing tools’ violent felony provisions, making it more difficult for certain crimes to carry the threat of a federal sentence enhancement. This is particularly the case for state child abuse laws. From a policy perspective, state legislatures draft child abuse laws to encompass a broad range of conduct in an effort to punish and deter every degree of child abuse, from minor to egregious and violent conduct. Unfortunately, this broad language also ensures repeat violent child abusers fall outside the now-limited reach of a federal sentence enhancement and permits earlier release of convicts with long histories of child abuse and molestation. This Comment posits that the Johnson decisions dismantled the effectiveness of state child abuse laws in keeping children safe from repeat abusers. As such, reform is needed and the Johnson holdings did not leave legislatures without recourse: the case law that developed in the wake of these holdings provides a template for legislatures to draft more effective child abuse laws and remedy the Johnson and Johnson problem before its ripple effects reach our children.
The Johnson & Johnson Problem: The Supreme Court Limited the Armed Career Criminal Act's "Violent Felony" Provision—and Our Children Are Paying,
45 Pepp. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/plr/vol45/iss4/4