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Judges uphold finding that past burglaries were not single criminal episode

December 20, 2012

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a defendant’s argument that his three previous convictions of burglary should be treated as a single criminal episode for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

James Elliott was arrested after police found a loaded gun on him, which is illegal because he has six previous felony convictions. He was indicted on a felon-in-possession charge and the government sought to enhance his sentence under the ACCA based on three burglary convictions. Elliott maintained that the burglaries – which took place over the course of five days – should be considered a single criminal episode and that a jury should decide whether the burglaries were committed on different occasions from one another.

The District Court rejected both of Elliott’s claims, pointing to Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 118 S. Ct. 1219 (1998), as to the court’s authority to make determinations regarding Elliott’s criminal history. Chief Judge Philip Simon also cited the 7th Circuit’s en banc decision in U.S. v. Hudspeth, 42 F.3d 1015, 1019-22 (7th Cir. 1994). In Hudspeth, there is a bright-line rule distinguishing simultaneous crimes from sequential ones. Simon sentenced Elliott to 180 months.

In United States of America v. James Elliott, 11-2766, the appellate judges affirmed the District Court, noting that the 7th Circuit and other courts have construed Almendarez-Torres to allow a District Court to make a finding for purposes of the ACCA as to whether a defendant committed three or more violent felonies or serious drug offenses on different occasions.

“The district court committed no error in finding that Elliott’s burglaries occurred on different occasions for purposes of the ACCA. The burglaries occurred on different days and involved different residences and victims. Under any plausible construction of the statute’s different-occasions language, the burglaries constituted distinct criminal episodes,” Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote. “Reconsideration of the approach that this court adopted in Hudspeth would not lead to a different result on the facts of this case. To the extent that the statute produces results that are perceived as unjust, the problem is one for Congress to fix rather than this court.”

 

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