Supreme Court Issues Opinion Impacting New York Defendants with Prior Drug Convictions

As we reported in February, the Supreme Court heard argument on  a drug case that will likely have significant consequences for many facing New York gun charges.  Now, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion  in the case.  Specifically, the case required the Court to interpret the provision of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) imposing mandatory sentences for those who are convicted of a gun offense after having previously been convicted of at least three drug offenses.

The ACCA seeks to impose escalating punishments for the possession of a firearm, based on a defendant’s prior record. For example, if a defendant is convicted of a gun offense, and has three prior “serious drug offenses,” the defendant is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 15 years. Of course, not every state’s laws are written the same way, and this requires federal courts to determine whether a drug conviction should be considered a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant pleaded guilty to a firearm offense and, based on the defendant’s six prior cocaine-related convictions, he received a sentence of 15 years’ incarceration. On appeal, the defendant challenged the lower court’s finding that the six offenses qualified as “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA.

The Court began its analysis by noting that the provision at issue requires courts to take a categorical approach when determining whether a state-law offense is a serious drug offense. However, the parties here disagreed as to how courts should go about conducting the analysis. The prosecution argued that a court should look to the conduct that is described in the state statute and compare it to that contained in the ACCA. The defendant argued that courts should look to the elements of the state-law offense and compare those elements to the generic elements mentioned in the ACCA. Essentially, the defendant’s position was that courts should expound on the elements of the state-law offense when comparing it to the language in the ACCA.

The Court held that the language in the ACCA focuses on conduct, rather than a comparison of elements. In so holding, the Court looked to the specific language in the ACCA, noting that, had the legislature intended for the ACCA to read as the defendant suggested, it would have included language indicating that to be the case. As a result of the Court’s opinion, the defendant’s sentence was affirmed.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Gun Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a New York gun crime, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates for immediate assistance. If you have prior drug convictions, you may be facing a mandatory sentence under the ACCA. At our New York criminal defense law firm, we have extensive experience defending clients against all types of charges, including gun possession, drug crimes, violent offenses, and many more. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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