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Career criminal law addressed by Supreme Court

New Jersey citizens may be familiar with the concept of career criminals, those deemed by the law to have committed excessive offenses of a certain minimum magnitude. The federal Armed Career Criminal Act provides for additional prison time for those meeting the criteria of the law at the time of conviction. With three prior eligible offenses, an individual could be subject to an increased sentence. However, the Supreme Court in its June 26 decision has now ruled that one of the phrases defining eligibility was too vague.

While the law does refer to specific acts, including use of explosives, arson, burglary, and extortion, it also includes a general phrase that allows for various types of conduct posing serious threat of physical consequences to be subject to the assignment of longer sentences as well. The case that brought this issue to the attention of the justices involved a man who was sentenced to 15 years instead of 10 years of prison time due to prior offenses. At the outset, the Supreme Court primarily heard the case to assess whether the defendant's use of a certain weapon fell under the criteria of violent felony. This led the justices to consider the vague nature of the law's phrasing.

Reports indicate that one of the justices has previously suggested that the phrase in question was unconstitutional. The ruling may impact those who have previously received longer sentences based on this vague element of the law. Additionally, the ruling may be of interest to criminal defense attorneys in their practices.

An individual with prior convictions who is facing new criminal charges might be concerned about how multiple convictions would affect a current case. In addition to developing a defense related to any new charges, a lawyer might be important during the sentencing phase for ensuring that a convicted client's rights are observed and that an excessive sentence is not imposed.

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