Crimes of Violence Under Federal Law: Johnson, Beckles & Voisine in Perspective

(125 Ratings)

Produced on: September 14, 2017

Course Format On Demand Audio

Taught by


Course Description

Time 63 minutes
Difficulty Beginner

Many aspects of federal criminal law require the court to determine whether the defendant has committed a “crime of violence.” The result of that determination can result in the denial of bail upon arrest for a crime, a dramatically increased sentence upon conviction for a crime, and ineligibility for programs which could result in early release from incarceration. It can also lead to an order of deportation for non-citizens appearing in Immigration Court.

In 2015, in Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court considered the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act which defined a “violent felony” (“crime of violence”) as one which “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” The Court held that the definition was unconstitutionally vague, both because it required a court to assess the risk of a hypothetical “ordinary case” of a particular crime and because it left uncertain the amount of risk necessary for a crime to qualify as a violent felony resulting in an increased sentence.

However, in 2017, in Beckles v. United States, the Court found that the same language as it appears in section 4B1.2(a)(2) of the Sentencing Guidelines is not subject to a vagueness challenge, because the Guidelines are only advisory and do not fix an applicable range of imprisonment for an offense. Shortly thereafter, in Voisine v. United States, the Court explained that even an offense committed recklessly would qualify as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) – which prohibits the possession of firearms by persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.

This course will address the variety of definitions of a “crime of violence” under federal law, when each definition will apply, how the same phrase could have different meanings and what legal challenges remain in light of Johnson, Beckles, and Voisine

Learning Objectives:
  1. Identify cases that require a determination of whether the defendant committed a crime of violence
  2. Understand the different definitions and their underlying justifications
  3. Explore the legal arguments that can be raised in response to each analysis


Susan Wolfe

Law Office of Susan C. Wolfe

Susan Wolfe focuses her practice on white-collar criminal defense at both the trial and appellate levels. She is well-versed in federal securities laws, professional misconduct laws, the federal anti-spam act, and various anti-fraud laws, including mortgage and insurance fraud. She has represented professionals in the real estate, mortgage, securities, and healthcare industries and in the legal profession during all stages of the criminal process, including investigations, bail proceedings, plea negotiations, motions, trial, sentencing, direct appeals, cert petitions, habeas petitions, and collateral licensing matters.

An experienced appellate lawyer, Ms. Wolfe has written and argued numerous appeals. In the last year alone, after filing her clients’ briefs in the Second Circuit, she exacted from the government concessions of error requiring remand for resentencing.

Ms. Wolfe enjoys a robust private practice in Midtown Manhattan. She has taught trial skills for the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program at Cardozo School of Law, written practice commentaries for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and authored an article for the New York Law Journal celebrating the joys of brief writing (“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Brief”). She has been a member of several Criminal Bar Associations and a former member of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals.

Marshall A. Mintz

Mintz & Oppenheim

Marshall A. Mintz is a criminal defense lawyer in New York City who has experience with a vast variety of criminal matters, ranging from high‑profile federal trials to simple misdemeanor prosecutions in New York City Criminal Court. He has obtained favorable results for clients accused of racketeering, narcotics offenses, mail and wire frauds, access device frauds, weapons possession, assault, and many other crimes.

Mr. Mintz graduated from the University at Buffalo in 1996 and earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1999. Starting in 1999, he practiced with a noted and high-profile criminal defense lawyer in new York City for several years before opening his own practice in 2004.

 Mr. Mintz was previously a member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, providing legal representation for indigent defendants who have been convicted of federal crimes in the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and was co-chair of its Amicus Committee, which files “friend of the Court” briefs in appellate cases which raise important issues in criminal law.

Mr. Mintz is admitted to practice in the courts of the State of New York; the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York; the United States Courts of Appeals for the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Circuits; and the Supreme Court of the United States. In addition, Mr. Mintz has represented multiple clients charged with federal crimes in the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Mintz has:

  • Obtained a reversal of a defendant’s convictions for murder and robbery due to the prejudicial impact of being tried together with a co-defendant;
  • Authored a brief on behalf of the New York State and National Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers in a case which led the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to declare New York State’s Persistent Felony Offender Statute unconstitutional;
  • Successfully argued that a federal district court exceeded its authority in setting the terms of a restitution order in a bank robbery case;
  • Convinced a state prosecutor to dismiss the case against a defendant charged with felony assault;
  • Obtained a no-jail sentence for a client convicted of conspiring to commit multiple federal identity-theft and fraud offenses;
  • Convinced a federal judge to sentence a defendant to probation instead of the 24 to 30 months’ imprisonment called for by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.


David D.


mark s.

Very interesting talk. I like how they discussed many of the view points of the SC justices

Lisa O.

Excellent presentation on an issue that requires 'watching'. I highly recommend this presentation.

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