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 think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.