In a previous post, we covered the Armed Career Criminal Act. This Act names someone a “career criminal” if they commit three prior violent felony or have three prior serious drug offense convictions. To qualify as an ACCA crime, they must be committed on “occasions different from one another.”
Recently, the Supreme Court heard Wooden vs. United States, a case which addressed the misuse of the ACCA to impose harsher sentences on defendants. In this case, in 1997, William Wooden broke into a mini-storage facility in Georgia, stealing from ten different units. The DA charged him with 10 counts of burglary.
Later, in 2014, a plainclothes officer arrested Wooden for possession of a firearm, a right denied to felons. This is a violation of federal law, (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924(e)).
Based on the 10 counts of burglary, he was charged under ACCA.
The question before the court was whether his prior crimes qualified him for sentence enhancement. Crimes prosecuted under ACCA carry a mandatory minimum of 15 years.
Justice Elena Kagan authored the unanimous majority opinion.
“The ordinary meaning of the word ‘occasion’ does not require occurrence at precisely one moment in time. For example, an ordinary person would describe Wooden as burglarizing ten units ‘on one occasion’ but would not say, ‘on ten occasions, Wooden burglarized a unit in the facility.’ And, indeed, ‘Wooden committed his burglaries on a single night, in a single uninterrupted course of conduct.’ The history of the ACCA confirms this understanding, as Congress added an ‘occasions clause’ which requires that prior crimes occur on ‘occasions different from one another.’ This interpretation is also consistent with the purpose of the ACCA, which is to address the ‘special danger’ posed by the ‘armed career criminal’—a concern not presented by the situation of a single criminal episode.”
The court also applied the “rule of lenity,” which demands that ambiguous laws be construed to favor a defendant.
This doesn’t mean you might not go to jail if you’re convicted of a federal felony. It does mean that it will be a lot harder for prosecutors to engage in ridiculous gymnastics to pile as many years onto that prison sentence as possible, which they often overzealously do.
To protect yourself you will still need a criminal attorney who is highly familiar with federal laws. If you need help, contact Koch Law today. We’ll help you protect your rights.