How does federal law prosecute repeated violent criminal acts?

As President Obama considers proposing additional restrictions on the ownership, sale, and possession of firearms, it’s important to consider existing laws that already are enforced against people who commit gun related offenses.

One such law is the Armed Career Criminal Act 18 USC § 924(e), originally passed during the Reagan administration in 1984, which, by operation of law, increases the statutory maximum for offenses. The ACCA requires that the individual have at least three predicate violent criminal offenses or drug trafficking offenses of certain types.

Section (e)(2)(A) defines a serious drug offense, which serves as a predicate, as a drug offense for which the maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law. Most North Carolina drug PWISD, Sale and Deliver, and Felony Maintaining a Dwelling do not qualify as serious drug offenses under the federal statute because the maximum possible sentences for those crimes is not 10 years or more. Only state drug trafficking offenses involving significant quantities of heroin, cocaine, meth, opiates, marijuana, etc. qualify as serious drug offenses.

Note that even though a person was not sentenced to 10 years or more, if the person was eligible to be sentenced under a particular state or federal statute, then that person would qualify as an Armed Career Offender.

Section (e)(2)(B) defines a violent felony as burglary, arson, extortion, or the use of explosives, or the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another person. This would include felony assaults, robberies, and sexual assaults.

Incidentally, the ACCA also includes any adjudications of juvenile delinquency.

Some federal United States Attorneys have attempted to construe the Armed Career Criminal Act in a broad to include such criminal acts as felony drunk driving. But in Begay v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 by a 6-3 vote that the ACCA did not mean to include drunk driving or driving while impaired offenses, even if felonies, as predicates in an Armed Career Criminal case.

The Armed Career Criminal Act operates a bit like North Carolina’s violent habitual act, but is broader in its definition of predicate crimes that can lead to an ACCA enhancement.

And the Armed Career Criminal Act provides that the minimum punishment in such an instance is 15 years, and the maximum punishment is life.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.