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The Armed Career Criminal Act

ARMED CAREER CRIMINAL ACT

The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), enacted in 1984, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for anyone with at least 3 prior “violent felony” or “serious drug offense” convictions who illegally possess a firearm. Similar to other three strikes laws, the ACCA was enacted to punish recidivism.

The age of predicate convictions is not relevant as there is no time limit on which prior offenses qualify. Also, the 3 prior convictions may even result from concurrent sentences. However, multiple convictions resulting from the same criminal conduct cannot satisfy the requirement of 3 convictions. (In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that for purposes of considering the enhanced sentences, multiple convictions arising from crimes committed on the same "occasion" are considered to be a single criminal episode toward the three-strikes rule.) [1]

PREDICATE OFFENSES FOR THE ACCA

Violent felony

Violent felony, for purposes of the ACCA, means any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult, that – has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, or – is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves the use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.[2]

Serious Drug Offense

Serious drug offense, for purposes of the ACA, means - an offense under the Controlled Substances Act ( 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act ( 21 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), or chapter 705 of title 46 for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law or - an offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act ( 21 U.S.C. 802 )), for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law. [3]

Conviction includes a finding that a person has committed an act of juvenile delinquency involving a violent felony.

ACCA CASE LAW

Violent Felony

Since its inception, the ACCA has been subjected to much interpretation by the Courts. In fact, parts of the ACCA have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.[4]

In 1990, the Court considered meaning of the word “burglary” in the ACCA’s residual clause, and in particular whether a conviction in Missouri for second-degree burglary was, in fact, a predicate conviction. The court concluded that an offense constitutes "burglary" under 924(e) if, regardless of its exact definition or label, it has the basic elements of burglary.[5]

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the offense of Felony Driving While Intoxicated is not a “violent felony” for purposes of the ACCA.[6] In 2009, the Court held that failing to report for incarceration does not qualify as a "violent felony" for the purposes of the ACCA.[7]

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that previous crimes with a mens rea (intent) of recklessness do not qualify as violent felonies for the purposes of the ACCA.[8]

In 2019, the Court held that criminal acts like pick pocketing and purse snatching should only be considered violent felonies if the perpetrator employed more force than is necessary to remove the property from that person. The Court further stated that, “slight offensive touching” would not satisfy the Florida robbery statute.[9] Therefore, not all incidents of pick pocketing or snatching are automatically considered robbery offenses under the Florida statute which includes provisions for lesser theft crimes.

The last clause of the ACCA’s definition of violent felony, “or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” is referred to as the residual (or catch-all) clause. In 2015, the residual clause was analyzed by the Court in Johnson v. U.S.,and the Court struck down this residual clause as unconstitutional. The Court explained that the clause did not survive the Constitution’s prohibition of vague criminal laws, and, therefore, violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process.[10]

Serious Drug Offense

In 2008, the Court considered whether a prior offense that is not alone considered grave, but carries a significant prison sentence because it was not the first crime the defendant committed, is not a serious drug offense for purposes of the ACCA.[11] In Borden, the Supreme Court ruled that previous crimes with a mens rea (intent) of recklessness do not qualify as violent felonies for the purposes of the ACCA.[12]

Attorney Kirk Truslow's practice focuses solely on criminal defense in State and Federal Courts. In practice for thirty years, Truslow has successfully defended many cases in State and Federal Court, and has served as lead counsel in many State and Federal Court jury trials. If you are being investigated or have been charged with a criminal offense, contact attorney Kirk Truslow at 843.449.3304 or at kirk@attorneytruslow.com.

 

[1] Wooden v. U.S., 595 U.S. (2022)

[2] 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B)

[3] 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)A)

[4] Johnson v. U.S., 576 U.S. 591 (2015)

[5] Taylor v. U.S., 495 U.S. 575 (1990)

[6] Begay v. U.S., 553 U.S. 137 (2008)

[7] Chambers v. U.S., 555 U.S. 122 (2009)

[8] Borden v. U.S., 499 U.S. 133 (2010)

[9] Stokeling v. U.S., 586 U.S. (2019)

[10] Johnson v. U.S., 576 U.S. 591 (2015)

[11] U.S. v. Rodriguez, 553 U.S. 377 (2008)

[12] Borden v. U.S., 499 U.S. 133 (2010)