“Remaining in” burglary is a “violent felony” for sentencing under 18 U.S.C. §924(e) if the defendant forms the intent to commit a crime at any time while unlawfully remaining in a building or structure, the U.S. Supreme Court held June 10 in Quarles v. United States.

Sec. 924(e) mandates a minimum 15-year prison term for defendants who unlawfully possess firearms if they have three prior convictions for a “violent felony,” which includes “burglary.”

The Court had previously held that “burglary” means “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.”

The “exceedingly narrow” question in Quarles was whether “remaining in” burglary occurs only if a person has the intent to commit a crime “at the exact moment” when he or she “first” unlawfully remains in a building, or whether a person can form the intent to commit a crime “at any time” while unlawfully remaining in the building.

In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that the defendant’s intent can be formed “at any time.”

Common law burglary occurred only upon breaking or entering.  But by the time §924(e) was adopted in 1986, most States had defined burglary more expansively to include when a person enters a building lawfully but remains in unlawfully, such as when a person lawfully enters a store but remains after closing time without permission.

The Court had previously held that Congress intended to adopt this more expansive definition of burglary.

“The common understanding of ‘remaining in’ as a continuous event means that burglary occurs for purposes of §924(e) if the defendant forms the intent to commit a crime at any time during the continuous event of unlawfully remaining a building,” the Court held.

Using a categorical approach of comparing this definition of burglary to the state statute under which Quarles was convicted, the question is whether the statute under which he was convicted is broader than generic burglary, or instead, substantially corresponds to or is narrower than generic burglary.  If broader, Quarles’ prior conviction does not count.  If substantially corresponding or narrower, it does.

The Court found that Quarles conviction did count as a prior “violent felony.”

Concurring opinion

Justice Thomas concurred, but said the Court should stop using the “categorical approach” to determine whether prior convictions count.

He said the categorical approach deprives defendants of their Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine whether a particular conviction satisfies the federal definition of burglary or falls outside that definition.

“Allowing a jury to do so would end the unconstitutional judicial factfinding that occurs when applying the categorical approach,” he said.

Here, however, any jury would have concluded that Quarles committed burglary, so any error was harmless, he said.