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7th Circuit reverses ACCA enhancement

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Based on a sparse record of evidence that the District Court could consider in determining whether a man can be sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the government didn’t meet its burden to prove two of the man’s previous convictions from events on the same day were separate predicate offenses under the Act.

Jeffrey Kirkland was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and sentenced under the ACCA based on five previous “violent felony” convictions. Two of those included drunk-driving offenses, which later the U.S. Supreme Court determined are not violent felonies under the ACCA. The District Court denied Kirkland’s request for relief, and the 7th Circuit ordered the lower court to take another look at his remaining three convictions to see if he can still be sentenced under the Act.

The federal judge relied only on the charging documents, judgments and plea questionnaires from the burglary and robbery convictions, which both occurred on the same day in 1985. The information did not provide enough detail to determine whether the crimes were committed on “occasions different from one another” as required by the Act.

The judge believed the government met its burden to prove they did, and the burden then shifted to Kirkland to prove otherwise, based on United States v. Hudspeth, 42 F.3d 1015, 1018 (7th Cir. 1994)(en banc). Since Kirkland was not allowed to provide any other information to support his argument based on Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 125 S.Ct. 1254, 161 L.Ed.2d 205 (2005), the District Court found the ACCA applied.

The Circuit judges agreed that Shepard limits what documents a judge can consider in determining whether the prior offenses occurred on separate occasions. But in cases like Kirkland’s, where the evidence is not definitive as to whether the criminal events happened separately from each other, the burden is not on the defendant to prove the events are one occasion.

The burden-shifting scheme mentioned in a footnote in Hudspeth is “no longer tenable because it essentially requires an ACCA enhancement even if the available Shepard-approved documents – the only evidence a sentencing court may consider – is inconclusive as to whether the offenses occurred on separate occasions,” wrote Judge Ruben Castillo, of the Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation.

The more appropriate burden allocation requires the government to establish by the preponderance of the evidence – using Shepard-approved sources – that the prior convictions used for the enhancement were “committed on occasions different from one another,” Castillo continued.

An ambiguous record regarding whether a defendant actually had the opportunity to stop or withdraw from his criminal activity doesn’t suffice to support the ACCA enhancement, the court ruled. The judges remanded for resentencing.

 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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