4th Circuit: SC Involuntary Manslaughter Not a “Violent Felony” Per the ACCA

U.S. v. Jenaro Middleton (No. 16-7556)

Jarnaro Carlos Middleton was sentenced as an armed career criminal pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). On appeal, Middleton challenges the district court’s determination that his prior conviction for South Carolina involuntary manslaughter qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA. Applying the “categorical approach,” the Fourth Circuit concludes that involuntary manslaughter in South Carolina does not involve the requisite use of violent force, and reverses Middleton’s sentence.

In this appeal, Middleton argues that South Carolina involuntary manslaughter sweeps more broadly than the physical force required under the ACCA’s force clause. Middleton supports his argument by reference to  State v. Hambright, 426 S.E.2d 806 (S.C. Ct. App. 1992). There, the defendant Hambright illegally sold alcohol from his home to high school students. One child who bought alcohol from Hambright died after crashing his car into a telephone pole. The doctor who performed the driver’s autopsy testified that “alcohol was a significant contributing factor to [the driver’s] death,” and that his injuries must have been caused by “tremendous force.” A jury convicted Hambright of involuntary manslaughter, and the Court of Appeals of South Carolina upheld his conviction. According to Middleton, because Hambright used no violent physical force against the victim, South Carolina involuntary manslaughter is broader than the ACCA’s force clause and therefore does not qualify as a violent felony. The Fourth Circuit agrees.

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