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US Supreme Court Issues Decision Ruling on What Qualifies for Predicate Offense Under the ACCA

gun-1623761-300x202The United State Supreme Court issued a recent decision – Stokeling v. United States – weighing in on predicate offenses under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i).  In its decision, the Court ruled that that even if Stokeling’s prior robbery conviction in Florida involved a minimal use of force, it qualified as a predicate “violent felony” under the Act, thereby justifying an enhanced sentence on Stokeling’s burglary conviction in the present case.

The background was as follows. In the course of investigating a burglary, Miami police officers searched the defendant’s backpack and found a firearm and ammunition. “Stokeling had previously been convicted of three felonies — home invasion, kidnapping, and robbery.” He pleaded guilty in federal [District Court] to possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(1). The probation office recommended that [he] be sentenced as an armed career criminal under ACCA, which provides that a person who violates §922(g) and who has three previous convictions for a violent felony “shall be imprisoned for a minimum of 15 years. §924(e).” ACCA, in its “elements clause,” defines violent felony as “any crime … that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” The District Court ruled that Stokeling did not qualify for an enhanced sentence under ACCA, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed that ruling. Stokeling appealed and sought certiorari.

In its decision affirming the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling that an enhanced sentence was justified under ACCA, the Supreme Court opined that “the force” required to commit robbery under Florida law qualifies as “physical force for purposes of the elements clause” of ACCA. The Court noted that “Congress made clear that the force required for common-law robbery would be sufficient to justify an enhanced sentence” under ACCA. That amount of force, opined the Court, could be as minimal as would be required to “overc[o]me a victim’s resistance, however slight that resistance might be” (internal citation omitted). The Court stated that “[r]obbery under Florida law corresponds to that level of force and therefore qualifies as a violent felony under ACCA’s elements clause.” Specifically, the Florida robbery “statute requires resistance by the victim that is overcome by the physical force of the offender.” Robinson v. State, 692

So. 2d 883, 886 (1997)…. “[A] defendant who [merely] grabs the victim’s fingers and peels them back to steal money commits robbery in Florida.” In sum, declared the Court, “[b]ecause the term physical force” in ACCA encompasses the degree of force necessary to commit common- law robbery [i.e., a minimal amount], and because Florida robbery requires that same degree of force, Florida robbery qualifies as an ACCA-predicate offense under the elements clause.

Charges involving enhanced penalties typically carry mandatory minimum time and are therefore particularly serious. The determination of whether a prior offense qualifies as a predicate for such an enhanced penalty is ripe for challenges, both at the charging and sentencing stage of the proceedings. If you or a loved on is charged with such an offense, it is of the utmost importance that you have an attorney who is well versed in the law and who will fight to make sure that you are not over charged, or over sentenced. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is an experienced attorney who works hard to make sure that all of his clients’ rights are protected. Contact him for a free consultation.