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Articles Posted in Federal Criminal Cases

Federal and State criminal statutes commonly include offenses that are enhanced based on their relation to other criminal conduct. Many of these enhanced offenses are made more serious by a defendant’s use of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit another offense. One federal statute, commonly known as the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), is used to make other criminal acts more serious if they are committed with a firearm. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia, recently decided an appeal by a defendant who was charged with a felony under the ACCA.

The defendant from the recently decided appeal was arrested after a home invasion robbery. According to the facts outlined in the judicial opinion, the armed defendant and others had broken into the home of a suspected drug dealer with the intention of stealing money and a large quantity of cocaine. The defendants did not find any drugs at the apartment, however, they did steal money and a firearm. In addition to being charged with robbery and attempted drug trafficking, the defendant was charged with another felony under the ACCA, for brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence and a drug trafficking offense. The defendant pleaded guilty to the robbery and the ACCA offense and the drug trafficking charge was dropped.

After the defendant was sentenced for his crimes, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that the definition for a “crime of violence” under the ACCA was unconstitutionally vague and reversed a conviction. As a result of the new precedent, the defendant appealed his conviction for the ACCA charge, arguing that there was no valid predicate offense to allow for the ACCA to be applied. On appeal the Fourth Circuit rejected the defendant’s arguments, finding that in his plea colloquy, the defendant admitted to brandishing a firearm while in the commission of a drug trafficking offense and that such an admission was sufficient to uphold his conviction under the ACCA.

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