Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The United States Supreme Court has handed down a series of decisions limiting the application of the Armed Career Criminal Statute and the Career Offender. This new law should stop the long-term trend of sentencing minor predicate offenders under statutes originally intended to lock away only the most violent career criminals. With more than 2.3 million Americans in jail or prison and 214,000 of them in federal prisons, a halt to ever longer sentences is much overdue.

For over twenty years, the Justice Department and US Courts of Appeals have been broadening the classification of a "crime of violence" (under the ACCA statute and the Career Offender Guideline) to apply to predicate convictions that have never previously been classified as violent crime. Courts now routinely sentence defendants as violent offenders for more minor crime like third offense drunk driving, for failing to stop for blue lights or for state-law misdemeanors in jurisdictions where misdemeanors have a potential two and a half-year maximum.

Armed Career Criminal statute usually applies an "enhanced" Guidelines range of 262-327 months and special mandatory minimum sentences to repeat offenders charged with certain armed conduct. The Career Offender Guideline USSG Sec. 4B1.2 typically does the same in drug charges and other crimes of violence applying sentencing ranges of 151+, 210+, 262+ months and even a 360-month to life range.