What is the Armed Career Criminal Act?

One of the first cases that the Supreme Court will hear in 2022 is Wooden vs. The United States.  This is a case that pertains to the Armed Career Criminal Act, which asks the courts to clarify when a person has committed one crime or several at the same instance.

In this specific case, William Dale Wooden broke into one storage facility but stole from ten different units. The government asked that he be charged as an armed career criminal so that they could impose a 15-year mandatory minimum.

Qualifying as an Armed Career Criminal

The Armed Career Criminal Act names someone a career criminal if they have had three prior violent felony or serious drug offense convictions. These crimes must have all been committed “on occasions different from one another.”

The courts have had deep arguments about what “different occasions” means. The 6th Circuit holds that crimes are committed on different occasions when they are committed “successively rather than separately,” as in Wooden. The 2nd Circuit distinguishes between “the defendant who simply commits several offenses in a connected chain of events and the defendant who commits multiple crimes separated by substantial effort and reflection.”

Mandatory Minimums

As mentioned, crimes prosecuted under the ACCA have a mandatory minimum of 15 years, though government studies tell us that these defendants are sentenced to an average of 17.

While the ACCA remains hotly debated, the same study found that armed career criminals represent less than 1% of the federal caseload. This may be due to a decision in Johnson v. United States, which declared the ACCA’s residual clause null and void. That is, “Any crime that otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential potential risk of physical injury to another” could be considered a violent crime. This included crimes similar to burglary, arson, or extortion.

In 2021 Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) introduced a bill that would do away with the concept of “violent felony” and “serious drug offense” and replace them with a single category: the “serious felony” category. This would vastly broaden the ACCA and subject more defendants to mandatory minimums. The ACCA would still only apply in a case where a felon who possesses a firearm has previously convicted three times of serious felonies committed on different occasions. Felons, fugitives, and various other categories of individuals may not own firearms or possess them.

Is your case likely to become an ACCA case?

If you are alleged to have been in possession of a firearm during your alleged crime, then you can be sure the government is going to bend over backwards to try to find a way to subject you to the mandatory minimum, as in the Wooden case. And while the Supreme Court might put a stop to such attempts by clarifying what a successive criminal case is, that doesn’t mean you aren’t in serious trouble.

Reach out to Koch Law. You’ll get help from an experienced federal criminal defense law who might be able to keep you from harsh sentencing under federal law. 

See also:

How to Resolve a Federal Criminal Case Before Charges Are Filed

What to Do If Your Firearms Are Stolen

Building a Defense for Federal Drug Trafficking Charges