In April, May and June the Third Circuit vacated convictions in three cases. The first, United States v. Lopez, addresses prosecutorial misconduct (Doyle error); the second, United States v. Vasquez-Algarin, addresses law enforcement misconduct (Fourth Amendment/forced entry); the third, United States v. Dennis, addresses trial court error (failure to give an entrapment instruction) in the larger context of reverse-sting stash house operations. Each opinion touches on policy concerns raised by the legal issues; the majority and Judge Ambro’s concurrence in Dennis are particularly worth reading for anyone litigating stash house cases. The three cases were decided by three non-overlapping panels of judges.
James Wooten was on hard times.
As he later told the police, he was just sick of living in his car and running out of money.
He went into a bank. As the Sixth Circuit in United States v. Wooten, tells it:
Michael Louchart sold some guns. They were stolen and he knew it.
The feds caught up to him and charged him with conspiracy to steal firearms and with receiving and selling stolen firearms, each of which violated 18 U.S.C. § 922. In the indictment, the government said that Mr. Louchart was involved in the theft of more than 75 firearms.
It’s not a coincidence that if a person steals more than 75 firearms they are then eligible for a sentencing enhancement under the sentencing guidelines.
Someone shot Eric Davis. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was mad.
The next day, someone told him that the man who shot him was near a high school. Mr. Davis went to the high school. He saw Octavious Wilkins, and took Mr. Wilkins as the man who shot him.
Mr. Davis, and friends, approached Mr. Wilkins. They had guns drawn.
As frequent readers of this blog know, the Armed Career Criminal Act gets a lot of appellate attention.
Simply put, if you’ve been previously convicted of a felony, and you’re found with a gun, that’s a federal crime. Normally, the most you can get for that crime is 10 years.
But, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, if you have three prior convictions for either a crime of violence or a drug distribution offense, then you face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, and a maximum sentence of life.
Two guys are sitting on a porch in Memphis on a July night. They share some conversation and a little bit of marijuana.
Three and a half years later, the Sixth Circuit wrote about that night in United States v. Shields.
Kevin Shields stopped by to visit Eugene Moore on his mother’s porch. Earlier that night, Mr. Shields had been seen with a handgun in his waistband by a Memphis police officer.
Like many Americans, Benjamin Carter liked to smoke marijuana. He also lived in a bad neighborhood, and worried about being the victim of crime.
Even though 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) says that it is a crime for any person “who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” to possess a firearm, Mr. Carter did just that.
When the government found out about his guns and his marijuana habit, they charged him violating section 922(g)(3).
The Armed Career Criminal Act creates more absurd law than any part of the American legal system outside of the tax code.
The Sixth Circuit’s recent, and short, opinion in United States v. Oaks illustrates the point. It asks the question we’ve never needed answering before – is running out of a courtroom a violent act?
It turns out that it isn’t.
The Fourth Circuit doesn’t issue many published opinions. When it does publish, though, it publishes a lot.
The Fourth Circuit yesterday issued an en banc opinion in United States v. Vann. Here’s the description of who wrote what:
A per curiam opinion, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Motz, King, Gregory, Agee, Davis, Keenan, Wynn, and Diaz joined, was issued on behalf of the en banc majority. Judge King wrote a concurring opinion, in which Judges Motz, Gregory, and Davis joined. Judge Agee wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, concurring in the en banc majority opinion, and concurring in the opinion of Judge Keenan. Judge Davis wrote a concurring opinion. Judge Keenan wrote a concurring opinion, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Agee, Wynn, and Diaz joined. Judge Wilkinson wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment. Judge Niemeyer wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Judge Shedd joined.
Legislators like to punish repeat offenders. That’s just good politics – “Mike Sloss puts repeat offenders behind bars” sounds better than “Mike Sloss has a balanced policy on recidivism” when put on a bumper sticker.
So it isn’t surprising that the Armed Career Criminal Act, located at 18 U.S.C. S 924(e)(1), jacks up the penalties for a person convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm if the person who is convicted has at least three prior convictions for drug dealing or a violent crime.
In a nod to fairness, though, Congress does require that those prior convictions be committed “on occasions different from one another.”