After a 2015 United States Supreme Court ruling that declared the law was too vague regarding what constitutes a “violent career criminal,” a convicted murderer’s 15-year sentence must now be examined over again. As a result, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a defendant was potentially wrongly sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison because he was found a felon in possession of a firearm under the Armed Career Criminal Act.
What is The Armed Career Criminal Act?
While few people with the exception of those who are prosecuted under it are familiar with the Armed Career Criminal Act, it is helpful to understand some important details about appeals based on this body of law.
Where did the Armed Career Criminal Act Originate?
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 into law. One area of law created by this Act was the Armed Career Criminal Act, which resulted in enhanced penalties for individuals who have previously been convicted of serious drug offenses or violent crimes. There was an immediate increase in the number of people in prisons in the United States after the introduction of the Armed Career Criminal Act, with statistics suggesting that nearly 600 individuals a year face increased prison penalties as the result of sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act.
To be considered a career offender for the purposes of this law, a person must be at least 18 years old at the time they committed the offense, the offense must either be a felony crime of violence or controlled substance offense, and the person must have at least two prior felony crimes of violence or drug offense.
To be considered “violent” for the purposes of this law, a felony offense must have involved:
- The actual, attempted, or threatened use of physical force against another individual
- Arson, burglary, or extortion involving the use of explosives, or
- Any conduct associated with a serious risk of injury to another person
A person who satisfies these criteria and is found in possession of a firearm faces imprisonment of at least 15 years.
The Vagueness in the Armed Career Criminal Act
Over the last few years, there has been significant debate about what constitutes “serious” or “violent” offenses for the career criminal act. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Johnson v. United States ruled that the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutional and violated the due process clause it because it included a phrase that let judges interpret whether an act was considered “serious” or “violent.” As a result, if you have been charged under the Armed Career Criminal Act, an experienced appellate attorney might be able to successfully argue that you were unlawfully prosecuted.
Speak with a Skilled Federal Criminal Appeal Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been charged under the Armed Career Criminal Act and wants to file an appeal, it is critical to speak with a seasoned attorney who understands how to best navigate the federal criminal appeal process. Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today for assistance.