Supreme Court overturns 1984 sentencing law

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 1984 law known as the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutional because it was too vague. The ruling is likely to have an impact on cases in North Carolina and throughout the country.

The law stated that an individual would receive a mandatory sentence of 15 years for a third violent crime. Tough-on-crime bills such as the ACCA have been increasingly under fire due to overcrowding in prisons and the way that they remove the latitude of judges to decide on a case themselves. However, the problem the court had with this law was not its severity but its lack of clarity.

According to the law, previous offenses that introduced a serious risk of physical harm could be counted in the three strikes. This led to some courts treating prior convictions as violence even when no violence occurred. In some cases, this uncertainty has resulted in individuals accepting plea bargains. In this case, the judges were examining the conviction of a man for possessing a sawed-off shotgun who was facing a 15-year sentence even though his felony was not specifically mentioned in the law. The Supreme Court concluded 8-1 that the law was unacceptably vague.

The overturning of this law may have implications for individuals facing charges for violent crimes. They will no longer be subject to this potential automatic 15-year prison term. Individuals who are facing charges for a violent crime may wish to consult an attorney. A plea bargain may still be a good strategy for an individual, or the individual may wish to plead not guilty and go to trial.