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U.S. Supreme Court Hears ACCA Case That May Affect Arizona Defendants with Several Prior Convictions

Recently, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a defendant’s sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The ACCA is a federal law that provides for enhanced sentencing for someone who is convicted of a crime involving the use or possession of a gun, if the defendant has prior convictions for “violent felonies.” In recent years, there has been significant litigation over what constitutes a violent felony. The case is important for Arizona defendants because the Court’s decision may significantly affect potential sentences for many defendants charged with Arizona gun crimes.

The case arose out of an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. According to that court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with possession of ammunition. The defendant was found guilty by a jury. At sentencing, the prosecution moved to sentence the defendant as a repeat offender under the ACCA. The prosecution claimed that the defendant had five prior violent felonies, including a 1982 conviction out of Texas for robbery. Although the defendant would typically only be eligible for a sentence of up to 10 years, because of his prior convictions, the court sentenced the defendant to 15 years.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declared part of the ACCA unconstitutional in 2015, the defendant appealed his sentence. The defendant claimed that under the post-2015 ACCA, several of his convictions no longer qualified as violent felonies. The court agreed, finding that two of the defendant’s convictions were no longer considered violent felonies. However, that still left the defendant with three violent felonies:  two Tennessee robberies and the Texas robbery. The defendant appealed, arguing that his Texas conviction for robbery should not have been considered a violent felony under the ACCA.

The Sixth Circuit began its analysis by noting that when determining whether a crime is a violent felony under the ACCA, courts do not look at the specific facts underlying the conviction but instead look at the generic elements needed to support a conviction for the offense. Courts have previously held that an offense must contain as an element “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another” to be considered a violent felony.

The Texas robbery statute under which the defendant was convicted provides that a person is guilty of robbery if the person “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another” while committing a theft. The defendant argued that, since the statute allows a person to be found guilty based on “recklessness,” the offense should not qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA. The Supreme Court has not yet heard oral arguments on the case.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious crime, such as a gun crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience helping his clients defend their freedom from the serious charges that they are facing. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call 480-413-1499 today.