There’s a federal statute known as The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). It’s basically a law that is designed to take career criminals, with high rates of recidivism, who use weapons to commit their crimes, and keep them behind bars for a longer period of time, since they keep doing this dumb shit over and over again, and clearly normal sentencing isn’t working.
The types of crimes this law covers are defined as a “violent felony” or a “serious drug offense.”
The courts have taken the approach that “violent felony” should include anything that can be categorized as a violent felony, and that they don’t necessarily have to look to the particulars of a case to determine if they believe it’s a violent felony.
Basically, they’re trying to make it objective and not subjective, because federal laws and state laws will have different wordings and such, so it’s not always an apples to apples comparison. So somehow, the courts need to be able to determine what a “violent felony” is for purposes of enforcing the ACCA, and it shouldn’t be open to interpretation, in their minds.
Well, the issue here is whether they should take that same categorical approach to the “serious drug offense” verbiage in the ACCA. Basically they’re asking WTF does “serious” even men. Like if he was only joking about selling cocaine, he’s cool. But if he really was serious, that’s a hit?
Shular, the scumbag in question, had been busted six times for drug-related crimes. Five times trying to sell cocaine, and once for possession with intent to distribute. At one point, he was asked, and agreed to babysit his mother’s firearm while she was rebuilding her home, according to his story. But he’s a career scumbag, and isn’t allowed to possess a firearm. So when he was caught with one, prosecutors wanted his ass sent up the river for a long time. A felon in possession normally has a 0-10 year sentencing guideline, but the ACCA says if he has three or more convictions under their rules, dipshit gets 15 to life.
However, his crime under state law seemed to allow for the notion that he not know what he was in possession of, presumably saying he could have simply been a mule carrying a substance he had no real knowledge about what he was carrying.
You’ll hear a term “mens rea” in a lot of legal arguments, including this one, which translates to “guilty mind” in Latin. It basically describes whether the defendant knew what they were doing was wrong or not, or gets at the heart of their state of mind during the commission of the crime.
The ACCA requires mens rea, which means it requires the person knew WTF they were doing. But the Florida crimes he was convicted on do not require mens rea, which could mean he’s fucking clueless he’s committing a crime.
So let’s lay this out, because this is beautifully stupid.
This mother fucker committed a crime that the ACCA was clearly written to prevent. The ACCA requires mens rea during the crime, and Shular definitely had mens rea (he knew WTF he was doing). So it should be open and shut, based on the fed’s argument.
However, his lawyers, quick to look for a technicality to get their client off, are saying that the ACCA requires categorical linking of state crime to federal crime. Then they want to use that rule to exclude Florida’s crime from the ACCA. And if they break that link, then the fact he had mens rea, goes away because they want the court to ignore that fact because they broke the link between the state and federal crime, effectively trying to nullify the fact he had mens rea.
This is bullshit lawyering 101, right here. But I’ll give them an A for creativity.
Anyway, SCOTUS, clearly unimpressed, seemed to be particularly interested in wrapping this one up, as they decided it in pretty short order, unanimously siding with the United States who argue that a categorical approach is not required, but instead merely “whether the state offense’s elements necessarily entail one of the types of conduct.”
So in a big fuck you to Shular’s scumbag lawyers, they told them to fuck off and die. Nuff said.
Read about this case below.
Argument preview: Category is: the categorical approach