throbber
(Slip Opinion)
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` OCTOBER TERM, 2012
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`Syllabus
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`1
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` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
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` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
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` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
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` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
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` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
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`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
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`
`
` Syllabus
`
` DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
`
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
`
`THE NINTH CIRCUIT
` No. 11–9540. Argued January 7, 2013—Decided June 20, 2013
`
`
`
` The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) increases the sentences of cer-
`tain federal defendants who have three prior convictions “for a vio-
`
`
` lent felony,” including “burglary, arson, or extortion.” 18 U. S. C.
`§924(e). To determine whether a past conviction is for one of those
`crimes, courts use a “categorical approach”: They compare the statu-
`tory elements of a prior conviction with the elements of the “generic”
`crime―i.e., the offense as commonly understood. If the statute’s ele-
`ments are the same as, or narrower than, those of the generic offense,
`the prior conviction qualifies as an ACCA predicate. When a prior
`conviction is for violating a “divisible statute”—one that sets out one
`or more of the elements in the alternative, e.g., burglary involving en-
`try into a building or an automobile—a “modified categorical ap-
`proach” is used. That approach permits sentencing courts to consult
`a limited class of documents, such as indictments and jury instruc-
`tions, to determine which alternative element formed the basis of the
`defendant’s prior conviction.
`
`Petitioner Descamps was convicted of being a felon in possession of
`a firearm. The Government sought an ACCA sentence enhancement,
`pointing to Descamps’ three prior convictions, including one for bur-
`glary under California Penal Code Ann. §459, which provides that a
`“person who enters” certain locations “with intent to commit grand or
`petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary.” In imposing an en-
`hanced sentence, the District Court rejected Descamps’ argument
`that his §459 conviction cannot serve as an ACCA predicate because
`§459 goes beyond the “generic” definition of burglary. The Ninth Cir-
`
`cuit affirmed, holding that its decision in United States v. Aguila-
`
`Montes de Oca, 655 F. 3d 915, permits the application of the modified
`categorical approach to a prior conviction under a statute that is
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`DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
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`Syllabus
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`“categorically broader than the generic offense.”
`It found that
`Descamps’ §459 conviction, as revealed in the plea colloquy, rested on
`
`facts satisfying the elements of generic burglary.
`
`Held: The modified categorical approach does not apply to statutes like
`§459 that contain a single, indivisible set of elements. Pp. 5−23.
`
`(a) This Court’s caselaw all but resolves this case. In Taylor v.
`United States, 495 U. S. 575, and Shepard v. United States, 544 U. S.
`13, the Court approved the use of a modified categorical approach in
`a “narrow range of cases” in which a divisible statute, listing poten-
`tial offense elements in the alternative, renders opaque which ele-
`ment played a part in the defendant’s conviction. Because a sentenc-
`ing court cannot tell, simply by looking at a divisible statute, which
`version of the offense a defendant was convicted of, the court is per-
`mitted to consult extra-statutory documents—but only to assess
`whether the defendant was convicted of the particular “statutory def-
`
`inition” that corresponds to the generic offense. Nijhawan v. Holder,
`557 U. S. 29, and Johnson v. United States, 559 U. S. 133, also em-
`
`phasized this elements-based rationale for the modified categorical
`approach. That approach plays no role here, where the dispute does
`not concern alternative elements but a simple discrepancy between
`generic burglary and §459. Pp. 5−10.
`
`(b) The Ninth Circuit’s Aguila-Montes approach turns an elements-
`based inquiry into an evidence-based one, asking not whether “statu-
`
`tory definitions” necessarily require an adjudicator to find the generic
`offense, but whether the prosecutor’s case realistically led the adjudi-
`
`cator to find certain facts. Aguila-Montes has no roots in this Court’s
`precedents. In fact, it subverts those decisions, conflicting with each
`of the rationales supporting the categorical approach and threatening
`
`to undo all its benefits. Pp. 10–19.
`
`(1) Taylor’s elements-centric categorical approach comports with
`
`
`ACCA’s text and history, avoids Sixth Amendment concerns that
`would arise from sentencing courts’ making factual findings that
`properly belong to juries, and averts “the practical difficulties and po-
`
`tential unfairness of a factual approach.” 495 U. S., at 601.
`
`
`ACCA’s language shows that Congress intended sentencing courts
`“to look only to the fact that the defendant had been convicted of
`crimes falling within certain categories, and not to the facts underly-
`ing the prior convictions.” Id., at 600. The Ninth Circuit’s approach
`runs headlong into that congressional choice. Instead of reviewing
`extra-statutory documents only to determine which alternative ele-
`
`ment was the basis for the conviction, the Circuit looks to those ma-
`
`terials to discover what the defendant actually did.
`
`
`Under ACCA, the sentencing court’s finding of a predicate offense
`indisputably increases the maximum penalty. Accordingly, that find-
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` Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
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`Syllabus
`ing would (at least) raise serious Sixth Amendment concerns if it
`went beyond merely identifying a prior conviction. That is why
`Shepard refused to permit sentencing courts to make a disputed de-
`termination about what facts must have supported a defendant’s
`conviction. 544 U. S., at 25 (plurality opinion). Yet the Ninth Circuit
`flouts this Court’s reasoning by authorizing judicial factfinding that
`
`goes far beyond the recognition of a prior conviction.
` The Ninth Circuit’s decision also creates the same “daunting” diffi-
`
`
`
`culties and inequities that first encouraged the adoption of the cate-
`gorical approach. Sentencing courts following Aguila-Montes would
`have to expend resources examining (often aged) documents for evi-
`dence that a defendant admitted, or a prosecutor showed, facts that,
`although unnecessary to the crime of conviction, satisfied an element
`of the relevant generic offense. And the Aguila-Montes approach
`would also deprive many defendants of the benefits of their negotiat-
`ed plea deals. Pp. 12–16.
`
`(2) In defending Aguila-Montes, the Ninth Circuit denied any
`real distinction between divisible and indivisible statutes extending
`
`further than the generic offense. But the Circuit’s efforts to imagina-
`tively reconceive all indivisible statutes as divisible ones are unavail-
`
`ing. Only divisible statutes enable a sentencing court to conclude
`
`that a jury (or judge at a plea hearing) has convicted the defendant of
`every element of the generic crime. Pp. 16−19.
`
`(c) The Government offers a slightly different argument: It con-
`tends that the modified categorical approach should apply where, as
`here, the mismatch of elements between the crime of conviction and
`the generic offense results not from a missing element but from an
`element’s overbreadth. But that distinction is malleable and manipu-
`lable. And in any event, it is a distinction without a difference.
`Whether the statute of conviction has an overbroad or missing ele-
`ment, the problem is the same: Because of the mismatch in ele-
`
`ments, a person convicted under that statute is never convicted of the
`
`generic crime. Pp. 19−22.
`
`(d) Because generic unlawful entry is not an element, or an alter-
`
`native element of, §459, a conviction under that statute is never for
`generic burglary. Descamps’ ACCA enhancement was therefore im-
`
`proper. Pp. 22–23.
`466 Fed. Appx. 563, reversed.
`KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
`
`
`C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ.,
`
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`joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an
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`opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opin-
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`ion.
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` Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
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`Opinion of the Court
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`1
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` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
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` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
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` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-
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` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
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` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
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`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`_________________
`
` No. 11–9540
`_________________
`MATTHEW ROBERT DESCAMPS, PETITIONER v.
`
`
`UNITED STATES
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
`
`[June 20, 2013]
`
`JUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
`
`The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA or Act), 18
`U. S. C. §924(e), increases the sentences of certain federal
`defendants who have three prior convictions “for a violent
`felony,” including “burglary, arson, or extortion.” To de-
`termine whether a past conviction is for one of those
`crimes, courts use what has become known as the “cate-
`gorical approach”: They compare the elements of the stat-
`ute forming the basis of the defendant’s conviction with
`the elements of the “generic” crime—i.e., the offense as
`commonly understood. The prior conviction qualifies as
`an ACCA predicate only if the statute’s elements are the
`
`same as, or narrower than, those of the generic offense.
`
`We have previously approved a variant of this method—
`labeled (not very inventively) the “modified categorical
`approach”—when a prior conviction is for violating a so-
`called “divisible statute.” That kind of statute sets out one
`
`or more elements of the offense in the alternative—for
`example, stating that burglary involves entry into a build-
`ing or an automobile. If one alternative (say, a building)
`matches an element in the generic offense, but the other
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`Opinion of the Court
`(say, an automobile) does not, the modified categorical
`approach permits sentencing courts to consult a limited
`class of documents, such as indictments and jury instruc-
`tions, to determine which alternative formed the basis of
`the defendant’s prior conviction. The court can then do
`what the categorical approach demands: compare the
`elements of the crime of conviction (including the alterna-
`tive element used in the case) with the elements of the
`generic crime.
`
`This case presents the question whether sentencing
`courts may also consult those additional documents when
`a defendant was convicted under an “indivisible” statute—
`i.e., one not containing alternative elements—that crimi-
`
`nalizes a broader swath of conduct than the relevant
`generic offense. That would enable a court to decide,
`based on information about a case’s underlying facts, that
`the defendant’s prior conviction qualifies as an ACCA
`predicate even though the elements of the crime fail to
`satisfy our categorical test. Because that result would
`contravene our prior decisions and the principles underly-
`ing them, we hold that sentencing courts may not apply
`the modified categorical approach when the crime of which
`the defendant was convicted has a single, indivisible set of
`
`elements.
`
`
`
`
`
`I
`
`Petitioner Matthew Descamps was convicted of being a
`felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U. S. C.
`§922(g). That unadorned offense carries a maximum
`penalty of 10 years in prison. The Government, however,
`sought an enhanced sentence under ACCA, based on
`Descamps’ prior state convictions for burglary, robbery,
`and felony harassment.
`
`ACCA prescribes a mandatory minimum sentence of 15
`
`years for a person who violates §922(g) and “has three
`previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious
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` Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
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`Opinion of the Court
`drug offense.” §924(e)(1). The Act defines a “violent felony”
`to mean any felony, whether state or federal, that “has
`as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of
`physical force against the person of another,” or that “is
`burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or
`otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious poten-
`tial risk of physical injury to another.” §924(e)(2)(B).
`
`Descamps argued that his prior burglary conviction
`could not count as an ACCA predicate offense under our
`
`categorical approach. He had pleaded guilty to violating
`California Penal Code Ann. §459 (West 2010), which pro-
`vides that a “person who enters” certain locations “with
`intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is
`guilty of burglary.” That statute does not require the
`entry to have been unlawful in the way most burglary
`laws do. Whereas burglary statutes generally demand
`breaking and entering or similar conduct, California’s does
`
`not: It covers, for example, a shoplifter who enters a store,
`
`like any customer, during normal business hours. See
`People v. Barry, 94 Cal. 481, 483–484, 29 P. 1026, 1026–
`1027 (1892). In sweeping so widely, the state law goes
`beyond the normal, “generic” definition of burglary. Ac-
`cording to Descamps, that asymmetry of offense elements
`precluded his conviction under §459 from serving as an
`ACCA predicate, whether or not his own burglary involved
`an unlawful entry that could have satisfied the require-
`ments of the generic crime.
`
`
`The District Court disagreed. According to the court,
`our modified categorical approach permitted it to examine
`certain documents, including the record of the plea collo-
`quy, to discover whether Descamps had “admitted the
`
`elements of a generic burglary” when entering his plea.
`
`App. 50a. And that transcript, the court ruled, showed
`that Descamps had done so. At the plea hearing, the
`prosecutor proffered that the crime “‘involve[d] the break-
`ing and entering of a grocery store,’” and Descamps failed
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`DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
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`Opinion of the Court
` The plea proceed-
`to object to that statement. Ibid.
`ings, the District Court thought, thus established that
`Descamps’ prior conviction qualified as a generic burglary
`(and so as a “violent felony”) under ACCA. Applying the
`
`requisite penalty enhancement, the court sentenced
`Descamps to 262 months in prison—more than twice the
`term he would otherwise have received.
`The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed,
`
`relying on its recently issued decision in United States v.
`
`Aguila-Montes de Oca, 655 F. 3d 915 (2011) (en banc) (per
`
`curiam). There, a divided en banc court took much the
`same view of the modified categorical approach as had
`the District Court in this case. The en banc court held
`
`
`that when a sentencing court considers a conviction under
`§459—or any other statute that is “categorically broader
`than the generic offense”—the court may scrutinize cer-
`tain documents to determine the factual basis of the con-
`viction. See id., at 940. Applying that approach, the
`Court of Appeals here found that Descamps’ plea, as re-
`vealed in the colloquy, “rested on facts that satisfy the
`elements of the generic definition of burglary.” 466 Fed.
`
`Appx. 563, 565 (2012).
`We granted certiorari, 567 U. S. ___ (2012), to resolve a
`
`Circuit split on whether the modified categorical approach
`applies to statutes like §459 that contain a single, “indi-
`visible” set of elements sweeping more broadly than the
`corresponding generic offense.1 We hold that it does not,
`and so reverse.
`
`
`
`
`
`——————
`1Compare, e.g., 466 Fed. Appx. 563, 565 (CA9 2012) (case below)
`(applying the modified categorical approach to §459); United States v.
`Armstead, 467 F. 3d 943, 947–950 (CA6 2006) (applying that approach
`
` to a similar, indivisible statute), with, e.g., United States v. Beardsley,
`691 F. 3d 252, 268–274 (CA2 2012) (holding that the modified categori-
`
` cal approach applies only to divisible statutes); United States v. Giggey,
`551 F. 3d 27, 40 (CA1 2008) (en banc) (same).
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` Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
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`Opinion of the Court
`
` II
`Our caselaw explaining the categorical approach and its
`
`
`“modified” counterpart all but resolves this case. In those
`decisions, as shown below, the modified approach serves a
`limited function: It helps effectuate the categorical analy-
`sis when a divisible statute, listing potential offense ele-
`ments in the alternative, renders opaque which element
`played a part in the defendant’s conviction. So under-
`stood, the modified approach cannot convert Descamps’
`conviction under §459 into an ACCA predicate, because
`that state law defines burglary not alternatively, but only
`more broadly than the generic offense.
`
`We begin with Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575
`
`
`(1990), which established the rule for determining when
`a defendant’s prior conviction counts as one of ACCA’s
`enumerated predicate offenses (e.g., burglary). Taylor
`adopted a “formal categorical approach”: Sentencing
`courts may “look only to the statutory definitions”—i.e.,
`the elements—of a defendant’s prior offenses, and not “to
`the particular facts underlying those convictions.” Id., at
`600. If the relevant statute has the same elements as the
`“generic” ACCA crime, then the prior conviction can serve
`as an ACCA predicate; so too if the statute defines the
`crime more narrowly, because anyone convicted under
`that law is “necessarily . . . guilty of all the [generic
`crime’s] elements.” Id., at 599. But if the statute sweeps
`more broadly than the generic crime, a conviction under
`that law cannot count as an ACCA predicate, even if the
`defendant actually committed the offense in its generic
`form. The key, we emphasized, is elements, not facts. So,
`for example, we held that a defendant can receive an
`ACCA enhancement for burglary only if he was convicted
`
`of a crime having “the basic elements” of generic burglary—
`i.e., “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining
`in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.”
`
` Ibid. And indeed, we indicated that the very statute at
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`Opinion of the Court
`issue here, §459, does not fit that bill because “California
`
`defines ‘burglary’ so broadly as to include shoplifting.” Id.,
`at 591.
`
`
`At the same time, Taylor recognized a “narrow range of
`
`cases” in which sentencing courts—applying what we
`would later dub the “modified categorical approach”—may
`look beyond the statutory elements to “the charging paper
`
`and jury instructions” used in a case. Id., at 602. To
`explain when courts should resort to that approach, we
`hypothesized a statute with alternative elements—more
`particularly, a burglary statute (otherwise conforming to
`the generic crime) that prohibits “entry of an automobile
`as well as a building.” Ibid. One of those alternatives (a
`building) corresponds to an element in generic burglary,
`whereas the other (an automobile) does not. In a typical
`case brought under the statute, the prosecutor charges one
`of those two alternatives, and the judge instructs the jury
`accordingly. So if the case involves entry into a building,
`the jury is “actually required to find all the elements of
`generic burglary,” as the categorical approach demands.
`Ibid. But the statute alone does not disclose whether
`that has occurred. Because the statute is “divisible”—i.e.,
`comprises multiple, alternative versions of the crime—a
`later sentencing court cannot tell, without reviewing
`something more, if the defendant’s conviction was for the
`generic (building) or non-generic (automobile) form of
`
`
`burglary. Hence Taylor permitted sentencing courts, as a
`tool for implementing the categorical approach, to examine
`a limited class of documents to determine which of a stat-
`ute’s alternative elements formed the basis of the defend-
`ant’s prior conviction.
`In Shepard v. United States, 544 U. S. 13 (2005), the
`hypothetical we posited in Taylor became real: We con-
`
`fronted a Massachusetts burglary statute covering entries
`into “boats and cars” as well as buildings. 544 U. S., at 17.
`The defendant there pleaded guilty to violating the stat-
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`Opinion of the Court
`ute, and we first confirmed that Taylor’s categorical ap-
`
`
`proach applies not just to jury verdicts, but also to plea
`agreements. That meant, we held, that a conviction based
`on a guilty plea can qualify as an ACCA predicate only if
`the defendant “necessarily admitted [the] elements of the
`generic offense.” Id., at 26. But as we had anticipated in
`Taylor, the divisible nature of the Massachusetts burglary
`statute confounded that inquiry: No one could know, just
`from looking at the statute, which version of the offense
`Shepard was convicted of. Accordingly, we again author-
`ized sentencing courts to scrutinize a restricted set of
`materials—here, “the terms of a plea agreement or tran-
`script of colloquy between judge and defendant”—to de-
`termine if the defendant had pleaded guilty to entering a
`
`
`building or, alternatively, a car or boat. Ibid. Yet we
`again underscored the narrow scope of that review: It was
`not to determine “what the defendant and state judge
`must have understood as the factual basis of the prior
`plea,” but only to assess whether the plea was to the ver-
`sion of the crime in the Massachusetts statute (burglary of
`a building) corresponding to the generic offense. Id., at
`25–26 (plurality opinion).
`
`Two more recent decisions have further emphasized
`
`the elements-based rationale—applicable only to divisible
`statutes—for examining documents like an indictment or
`
`plea agreement. In Nijhawan v. Holder, 557 U. S. 29
`
`(2009), we discussed another Massachusetts statute, this
`one prohibiting “‘Breaking and Entering at Night’” in any
`of four alternative places: a “building, ship, vessel, or
`vehicle.” Id., at 35. We recognized that when a statute so
`“refer[s] to several different crimes,” not all of which qualify
`
`as an ACCA predicate, a court must determine which
`crime formed the basis of the defendant’s conviction. Ibid.
`That is why, we explained, Taylor and Shepard developed
`the modified categorical approach. By reviewing the
`extra-statutory materials approved in those cases, courts
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`DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
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`Opinion of the Court
`could discover “which statutory phrase,” contained within
`
`a statute listing “several different” crimes, “covered a prior
`
`
`
`
`
`
`conviction.” 557 U. S., at 41. And a year later, we repeated
`that understanding of when and why courts can resort
`to those documents: “[T]he ‘modified categorical approach’
`
`that we have approved permits a court to determine which
`statutory phrase was the basis for the conviction.” John-
`son v. United States, 559 U. S. 133, 144 (2010) (citation
`omitted).
`
`
`Applied in that way—which is the only way we have
`ever allowed—the modified approach merely helps im-
`plement the categorical approach when a defendant was
`convicted of violating a divisible statute. The modified
`approach thus acts not as an exception, but instead as a
`tool. It retains the categorical approach’s central feature:
`
`a focus on the elements, rather than the facts, of a crime.
`And it preserves the categorical approach’s basic method:
`
`comparing those elements with the generic offense’s. All
`
`the modified approach adds is a mechanism for making
`that comparison when a statute lists multiple, alternative
`elements, and so effectively creates “several different . . .
`crimes.” Nijhawan, 557 U. S., at 41. If at least one, but
`not all of those crimes matches the generic version, a court
`
`needs a way to find out which the defendant was convicted
`
`
`of. That is the job, as we have always understood it, of the
`modified approach: to identify, from among several alter-
`natives, the crime of conviction so that the court can com-
`
`pare it to the generic offense.2
`——————
`2The dissent delves into the nuances of various States’ laws in an
`effort to cast doubt on this understanding of our prior holdings, arguing
`that we used the modified categorical approach in cases like Taylor,
`Shepard, and Johnson “in relation to statutes that may not have been
`
` divisible” in the way that we have just described. Post, at 5 (ALITO, J.).
`But if, as the dissent claims, the state laws at issue in those cases set
`out “merely alternative means, not alternative elements” of an offense,
`post, at 7, that is news to us. And more important, it would have been
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`Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`The modified approach thus has no role to play in this
`
`case. The dispute here does not concern any list of alter-
`native elements. Rather, it involves a simple discrepancy
`between generic burglary and the crime established in
`§459. The former requires an unlawful entry along the
`lines of breaking and entering. See 3 W. LaFave, Sub-
`stantive Criminal Law §21.1(a) (2d ed. 2003) (hereinafter
`LaFave). The latter does not, and indeed covers simple
`
`shoplifting, as even the Government acknowledges. See
`Brief for United States 38; Barry, 94 Cal., at 483–484, 29
`P., at 1026–1027. In Taylor’s words, then, §459 “define[s]
`burglary more broadly” than the generic offense. 495
`U. S., at 599. And because that is true—because Califor-
`nia, to get a conviction, need not prove that Descamps
`broke and entered—a §459 violation cannot serve as an
`
`ACCA predicate. Whether Descamps did break and enter
`makes no difference. And likewise, whether he ever ad-
`mitted to breaking and entering is irrelevant. Our deci-
`sions authorize review of the plea colloquy or other
`approved extra-statutory documents only when a statute
`defines burglary not (as here) overbroadly, but instead
`alternatively, with one statutory phrase corresponding to
`the generic crime and another not. In that circumstance,
`——————
`news to the Taylor, Shepard, and Johnson Courts: All those decisions
`rested on the explicit premise that the laws “contain[ed] statutory
`
` phrases that cover several different . . . crimes,” not several different
`methods of committing one offense. Johnson, 559 U. S., at 144 (citing
`Nijhawan, 557 U. S., at 41). And if the dissent’s real point is that
`distinguishing between “alternative elements” and “alternative means”
`is difficult, we can see no real-world reason to worry. Whatever a
`statute lists (whether elements or means), the documents we approved
`in Taylor and Shepard—i.e., indictment, jury instructions, plea collo-
`quy, and plea agreement—would reflect the crime’s elements. So a
`
`
`court need not parse state law in the way the dissent suggests: When a
`state law is drafted in the alternative, the court merely resorts to the
`approved documents and compares the elements revealed there to those
`of the generic offense.
`
`
`
`9
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`10
`
`
`
`DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
`
`Opinion of the Court
`a court may look to the additional documents to determine
`which of the statutory offenses (generic or non-generic)
`
`formed the basis of the defendant’s conviction. But here
`
`no uncertainty of that kind exists, and so the categorical
`approach needs no help from its modified partner. We
`know Descamps’ crime of conviction, and it does not corre-
`spond to the relevant generic offense. Under our prior
`decisions, the inquiry is over.
`
`III
`
`The Court of Appeals took a different view. Dismissing
`everything we have said on the subject as “lack[ing] con-
`
`clusive weight,” the Ninth Circuit held in Aguila-Montes
`that the modified categorical approach could turn a convic-
`tion under any statute into an ACCA predicate offense.
`655 F. 3d, at 931. The statute, like §459, could contain a
`
`single, indivisible set of elements covering far more con-
`duct than the generic crime—and still, a sentencing court
`could “conside[r] to some degree the factual basis for the
`defendant’s conviction” or, otherwise stated, “the particu-
`
`lar acts the defendant committed.” Id., at 935–936. More
`specifically, the court could look to reliable materials (the
`charging document, jury instructions, plea colloquy, and so
`forth) to determine “what facts” can “confident[ly]” be
`thought to underlie the defendant’s conviction in light of
`the “prosecutorial theory of the case” and the “facts put
`forward by the government.” Id., at 936–937. It makes no
`
`difference, in the Ninth Circuit’s view, whether “specific
`words in the statute” of conviction “‘actually required’”
`
`the jury (or judge accepting a plea) “to find a particular
`
`generic element.” Id., at 936 (quoting Taylor, 495 U. S., at
`
`602; internal quotation marks omitted).3
`——————
` 3The dissent, as we understand it, takes the same view as the Ninth
`
`Circuit; accordingly, each of the reasons—statutory, constitutional, and
`
` practical—that leads us to reject Aguila-Montes proves fatal to the
`dissent’s position as well. The dissent several times obscures its call to
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`11
`
`
`Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`That approach—which an objecting judge aptly called
`
`
` “modified factual,” 655 F. 3d, at 948 (Berzon, J., concur-
`ring in judgment)—turns an elements-based inquiry into
`an evidence-based one. It asks not whether “statutory
`definitions” necessarily require an adjudicator to find the
`generic offense, but instead whether the prosecutor’s case
`realistically led the adjudicator to make that determi-
`nation. And it makes examination of extra-statutory doc-
`uments not a tool used in a “narrow range of cases” to
`
`identify the relevant element from a statute with multiple
`
`alternatives, but rather a device employed in every case to
`evaluate the facts that the judge or jury found. By this
`point, it should be clear that the Ninth Circuit’s new way of
`
`
`identifying ACCA predicates has no roots in our precedents.
`
`But more: Aguila-Montes subverts those decisions, conflict-
`——————
`
`
`explore facts with language from our categorical cases, asking whether
`“the relevant portions of the state record clearly show that the jury
`necessarily found, or the defendant necessarily admitted, the elements
`
`of [the] generic [offense].” Post, at 14; see Shepard, 544 U. S., at 24 (plural-
`ity opinion) (reiterating Taylor’s “demanding requirement that . . . a
`prior conviction ‘necessarily’ involve[]” a jury finding on each element
`
`of the generic offense) (emphasis added). But the dissent nowhere
`explains how a factfinder can have “necessarily found” a non-element—
`
`that is, a fact that by definition is not necessary to support a conviction.
`
`The dissent’s fundamental view is that a sentencing court should be
`able to make reasonable “inference[s]” about what the factfinder really
`
`(even though not necessarily) found. See post, at 15. That position
`
`accords with our dissenting colleague’s previously expressed skepticism
`
`about the categorical approach. See Moncrieffe v. Holder, 569 U. S. ___,
`___ (2013) (slip op., at 11) (ALITO, J., dissenting) (“I would hold that the
`categorical approach is not controlling where the state conviction at
`issue was based on a state statute that encompasses both a substantial
`number of cases that qualify under the federal standard and a substan-
`
`tial number that do not. In such situations, it is appropriate to look
`beyond the elements of the state offense and to rely as well on facts
`that were admitted in state court or that, taking a realistic view, were
`clearly proved”). But there are several decades of water over that dam,
`and the dissent offers no newly persuasive reasons for revisiting our
`precedents.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` DESCAMPS v. UNITED STATES
`
`Opinion of the Court
`ing with each of the rationales supporting the categorical
`
`approach and threatening to undo all its benefits.
`A
`
`This Court offered three grounds for establishing our
`elements-centric, “formal categorical approach.” Taylor,
`
`495 U. S., at 600. First, it comports

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