Supreme Court Discusses Prior Offenses Under the Armed Career Criminal Act

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (the Act), people with three or more prior convictions for certain felonies face enhanced penalties if they are convicted of a subsequent crime. The prior convictions must arise out of crimes that occurred on different occasions, however. Recently, the United States Supreme Court examined what the word occasions means in the context of the Act, in a case where the defendant had ten prior robbery convictions that stemmed from a single criminal incident. If you are accused of a federal crime, it is wise to meet with a Michigan criminal defense attorney to assess your options.

Factual History of the Case

It is reported that in 1997 the defendant broke into a storage facility and robbed ten different units. The government charged him with ten counts of burglary; he pleaded guilty and was convicted. Seventeen years later, an officer who was in the defendant’s home saw the defendant with a rifle in his possession. The defendant was subsequently charged with the federal offense of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The jury found the defendant guilty and during sentencing, he was deemed an armed career criminal under the Act, because of his ten prior robbery convictions. The court sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison, and he appealed. The appellate court affirmed his sentence, and the defendant sought certiorari review.

Prior Offenses Under the Career Criminal Act

The  Supreme Court examined the issue of whether crimes that a defendant commits in sequence during a single incident happen on separate occasions for the purposes of imposing a sentence enhancement under the Act. The Court found that such crimes did not constitute separate occurrences, and reversed the lower court ruling.

The Court explained that pursuant to the Act, defendants convicted of three or more specified felonies that occurred on different occasions are deemed armed career criminals. The Court also pointed out that the defendant’s crimes happened in a single, uninterrupted course of conduct.

The Court found that the word occasion should be interpreted in a manner consistent with its ordinary use. In other words, a person may say that the defendant committed numerous offenses on one occasion, but not that he burglarized a storage unit on numerous occasions. The Court explained that its understanding of the word occasion was supported by the history of the Act, as Congress modified the Act to include a provision stating that the prior offenses must happen on occasions that are distinct from one another.

Talk to a Trusted Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

People accused of violent crimes may receive substantial penalties if they are convicted. If you are charged with a violent crime, it is in your best interest to talk to a lawyer about your possible defenses. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is a trusted Michigan criminal defense attorney who is adept at helping people charged with crimes fight to protect their interests. You can reach Mr. Bernstein via the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a meeting.

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