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Supreme Court says career criminal law is too vague


A New Jersey resident who is repeatedly convicted of federal violent felony charges could receive a longer prison term under the Armed Career Criminal Act. However, a recent Supreme Court decision could make it more difficult for prosecutors to label someone a career criminal. On June 26, the Supreme Court decided to eliminate a catchall phrase from the Armed Career Criminal Act that was found to be too vague.

The Supreme Court case involved a man who had pleaded guilty to federal charges for owning a sawed-off shotgun in 2012. Although the man would have normally been sentenced to 10 years behind bars for the crime, he received a 15-year prison sentence due to his prior convictions. The Supreme Court agreed with the man that possession of a sawed-off shotgun was not a violent felony that should have qualified for enhanced sentencing.

Some of the types of crimes that can result in enhanced sentencing are the use of explosives, burglary, arson and extortion. The statute also contained language that included in its coverage other types of felonies that were broadly defined. Six justices found that language unconstitutional for its ambiguity, and two justices agreed that possession of a sawed-off shotgun was not a violent felony.

Those people with a prior criminal record could face the potential for enhanced sentencing if they receive another conviction for certain types of offenses. Someone in this situation may want to discuss the details of their case with a criminal defense attorney before deciding what type of plea to enter at trial.

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