Clinic Returns to Supreme Court for Sentencing Enhancement Case

Quarles v. United States Hinges on Interpretation of Federal Burglary Statute
U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case from the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic involving the meaning of burglary. Photo by ThinkStock

April 23, 2019

The University of Virginia School of Law’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic will face the justices Wednesday in a case that could affect criminal defendants facing mandatory minimum prison sentences.

The high court granted cert in January in Quarles v. United States. Clinic lecturers John Elwood, Max Etchemendy, Josh Johnson and Jeremy Marwell of Vinson & Elkins are serving as co-counsel, with Marwell expected to present oral argument.

The clinic filed on behalf of Jamar Alonzo Quarles, who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He had three prior felony convictions, including third-degree home invasion in Michigan.

The Armed Career Criminal Act imposes a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for any felon who unlawfully possesses a firearm and who has three or more prior convictions for any “violent felony,” including a burglary conviction punishable by imprisonment for over one year. The court ruled in Taylor v. United States in 1990 that the statute uses “burglary” in its generic sense. Generic burglary is defined as an unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime.

The question before the justices is whether Taylor’s definition of generic burglary requires proof that intent to commit a crime was present at the time of unlawful entry or first unlawful remaining, as two federal appeals courts have held; or whether it is enough that the defendant formed the intent to commit a crime at any time while “remaining in” the building or structure, as the Supreme Court and three other appeals courts have held.

Quarles argues that his burglary conviction under state law lacks the requisite Taylor elements because it does not require proof of intent to commit a crime at the moment the defendant entered or first unlawfully remained inside the building.

The government argues in its brief that the word “remaining” in Taylor unambiguously refers to the entire period of an intruder’s unlawful presence, not just the first moment.

The yearlong clinic introduces third-year students to all aspects of current U.S. Supreme Court practice through live cases. Quarles is the clinic’s 16th case before the court since its inception in 2006.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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