WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday narrowed the scope of a federal law that toughens penalties for career criminals convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm.
The high court ruled in the case of a man who a lower court ruled a career criminal after counting the man’s burglary of 10 different public storage units in a single evening as 10 separate offences. The high court on Monday unanimously ruled that was a mistake.
The man’s 10 burglary convictions should have been treated as a single event rather than separate crimes when determining whether he qualified for a harsher sentence under federal misdemeanor law. career in the army, concluded the judges.
Without the higher sentence, the recommended sentence for the man would have been around two years, but he was instead sentenced to almost 16 years.
“Convictions resulting from a single criminal episode … can only be counted once under the ACCA,” Judge Elena Kagan wrote.
The decision could lead to sentence reductions for others who face harsher penalties under the law. According to a report by the US Sentencing Commission, however, those classified as armed career criminals have recently accounted for less than one percent of those convicted of federal offenses each year.
The Armed Career Criminal Act requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years for anyone found in possession of a firearm after three or more prior convictions for violent crimes or serious drug offenses. The law stipulates that each of the offenses must have been “committed on different occasions from each other”.
Kagan wrote that a single “occasion” can include separate activities, citing the example of multiple events occurring on a couple’s wedding day.
“The occasion of a wedding, for example, often includes a ceremony, a cocktail, a dinner and a dance. These actions are close in time and place, and have a common theme (celebrating the happy couple); their connections are, indeed, what makes them part of a unique event. But they don’t happen at the same time,” she said. “The newlyweds would surely take offense if a guest hosted a conga line in the middle of their vows.Indeed, an occasion can…encompass a number of non-simultaneous activities.
The case before the judges involved William Dale Wooden. Wooden had a long criminal history and was convicted in 2018 in Tennessee of being a felon in possession of a firearm. A judge ruled he should be eligible for the Armed Career Criminal Act’s ‘enhancement’ of sentencing. This finding was based on a 2005 burglary conviction and the fact that he pleaded guilty in 1997 to 10 counts of burglary for participating in the robbery of 10 units at a mini-warehouse in Dalton, Georgia.
Wooden argued that burglaries should count towards a conviction, but lower courts disagreed.
“We are delighted that the Supreme Court recognizes that Mr. Wooden is not an armed career criminal and should never have been subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years,” wrote Wooden’s attorney, Allon Kedem. , in an email.
Kedem said the government had previously agreed that his recommended sentence had he not qualified for a stronger sentence under the Armed Careers Act was around two years and he has already served well. more than this. Kedem said that “once he is sentenced, we expect him to be sent home to his family”.
The Armed Career Criminal Act has been the subject of much litigation in the Supreme Court.
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