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How a Prior Criminal Record Can Affect a Subsequent Federal Firearms Conviction

A prior criminal record can have a significant impact on how you are sentenced for a subsequent conviction. Indeed, there are a number of federal and state laws designed to punish repeat or “career” criminals. For example, federal law makes it a crime for a previously convicted felon to possess a firearm. Normally, the maximum sentence for this crime is 10 years in prison. But under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), if the defendant has three previous convictions for a “violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both,” the mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years.

What counts as a “violent felony” under the ACCA has been the subject of much debate and discussion within the federal court system. Prior to 2015, the statute defined three types of violent felonies: (1) crimes that involve the “use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force” against another person; (2) crimes that involve burglary, arson, extortion, or the use of explosives; or (3) any other crime that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declared this third category–known as the ACCA’s “residual clause”–unconstitutional because it was simply too vague. The Court later declared its decision was retroactive, so defendants previously sentenced under the ACCA’s residual clause could ask for a new sentencing hearing.

Fourth Circuit Overturns Maryland Defendant’s Mandatory 15-Year Sentence

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently “corrected” one such sentence involving a Maryland defendant. In United States v. Proctor, a grand jury indicted the defendant in 2004 on various drugs and firearms charges. Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to one count of cocaine possession and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The defendant had two prior drug convictions, which both counted towards the minimum of three required to apply the ACCA. The defendant also had a third conviction in Maryland stemming from a 1986 charge of “assault with intent to prevent lawful apprehension.” The judge determined this qualified as a “violent felony” and thus imposed a total sentence of 234 months in prison after applying the 15-year minimum.

The Fourth Circuit, however, said that in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the designation of the defendant’s 1986 conviction could no longer count as one of the three necessary prior convictions. The only way it would qualify is if the offense itself involved “physical force,” the Court noted. But “assault with intent to prevent lawful apprehension” was effectively the equivalent of resisting arrest, which did not necessarily require the use of force. Indeed, the Fourth Circuit said this offense often involved nothing more than “touching or tapping” someone else (presumably a police officer), and it was therefore a “nonviolent” offense.

Contact Waldorf Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.