April 18, 2016

Jenner & Block won a significant victory in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of pro bono client Gregory Welch, a result that has the potential to provide relief to hundreds of persons who were sentenced under a statute that has since been held unconstitutional.  On April 18, less than three weeks after oral argument, the Court ruled 7-1 that its 2015 decision in Johnson v. United States must be applied retroactively to persons whose convictions became final before Johnson was decided.

In Johnson, the Court struck down the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)—a catchall provision that courts had relied upon for approximately 30 years to increase a defendant’s sentence for an illegal possession of a firearm from a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment to a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment and up to life imprisonment.  Under ACCA, that increase in sentence was mandatory if the defendant had at least three prior convictions for a serious drug offense or a “violent felony,” which included any conduct that presented “a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”  Johnson held that this definition of “violent felony" is unconstitutionally vague.

On March 30, fifth-year Associate Amir H. Ali argued that the Court’s holding in Johnson must be applied retroactively to persons like Mr. Welch, whose conviction and sentence became final before Johnson was decided.  The case resolves a significant split among the circuits, under which prisoners in some states have been re-sentenced or released underJohnson, while prisoners in other states have been denied relief from their unconstitutionally imposed sentences.

In addition to Mr. Ali and Partner Lindsay C. Harrison, the team also includes Partner Matthew E. Price; Associates R. Trent McCotter, Joshua M. Parker and Benjamin M. Eidelson; Law Clerk Adrienne Benson; Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson; Docketing Assistant Tyler Edwards; and Legal Secretaries Beth Gulden and Curlene Wellington.