Johnson v. U.S.: Battery is not a Crime of Violence

Johnson v. U.S.: Battery is not a Crime of Violence

On March 2, 2010, the Supreme Court decided in Johnson v. US, that a crime of simple battery is not a violent felony. Though this decision was based such a categorization for the purposes of sentance enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), this decision may provide precendent that can be applicable in many other areas of law.

The area of assault and battery has been a cause of headaches for attorneys, judges, and law students across the nation. Assault’s common law legal definition, contrary to the general use of the word, is, to put it simply, putting someone in fear of imminent harm. Battery, on the other hand, is the actual touching of the person. This touching, however, is simply qualified as “offensive touching.” Courts routinely note that a simple tapping of another can be grounds for a conviction for battery.

On the other hand, a crime of violence is generally defined as an offense where the use or the threat of use of physical force is an element. Being convicted of a crime of violence can have additional ramifications for the offender; for example, as in Mr. Johnson’s case, he was potentially subjected to a sentence enhancement for multiple violent convictions. In addition, conviction of for a crime of violence has ramifications for immigration purposes. An immigrant who has committed a crime of violence can be subjected to deportation, or prevented from asserted certain rights and defenses when applying for legal status.

Because of the amorphous definitions an act of touching, or threatening to touch someone can take under the categorizations of assault and battery, courts have struggled with whether such convictions should categorically qualify as a crime of violence.

The Supreme Court addressed the issue of simple battery in US v. Johnson, and held that is is not categorically a crime of violence, because such a conviction requires only an intent to touch, without the need to find injury to the victim: We think it clear that in the context of a statutory definition of ‘violent felony,’ the phrase ‘physical force’ means violent force- that is, force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.”