The Armed Career Criminal Act: Imprecise, Indeterminate, and Unconstitutional
28 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2015
Date Written: December 3, 2015
The Armed Career Criminal Act provides a mandatory minimum fifteen-year sentence enhancement for felons possessing a firearm who have previously been convicted three times of a “violent felony” or a “serious drug offense.” Despite this seemingly clear mandate, the statute has been embroiled in controversy for decades as judges struggle to determine what predicate crimes meet this standard. The culmination of this battle resulted in the invalidation of the ACCA’s “residual clause” when the Supreme Court found that the clause violated due process in Johnson v. United States. Nonetheless, the remaining provisions of the ACCA are still problematic. For example, although burglary is a specifically enumerated offense that constitutes a violent felony, burglary convictions in some states have been held to be violent felonies while burglary convictions in other states have not. Likewise, offenses involving “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another” have mired the courts in similar difficulties in determining whether the particular offensive qualifies as violent felony. Perhaps most troublesome, a finding of juvenile delinquency can be considered a criminal conviction that subjects an individual to ACCA enhancement in a subsequent adult proceeding, despite the fact that juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. This paper argues that the ACCA is imprecise, indeterminate, and insusceptible of principled and predictable interpretation. Absent a wholesale modification by Congress, the substantive provisions of the ACCA examined in this paper ought to be held by the courts to be unconstitutional because they deprive defendants of due process.
Keywords: Armed Career Criminal Act, ACCA, mandatory minimum, violent felony, due process, sentencing
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