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Washington, DC — Today, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act of 2018, legislation that will protect Americans from the most violent, repeat offenders. The Hatch-Cotton legislation reinstates an important tool for prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties against violent, repeat offenders. 

“True criminal justice reform includes giving prosecutors the tools they need to seek enhanced penalties against the worst repeat offenders, said Hatch. “Prosecutors lost one of those tools three years ago when the Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague. Criminals released early from prison as a result of that decision have gone on to commit heinous crimes, including the murder of three innocent Utahns. Our bill will bring much-needed clarity to the law while empowering prosecutors to pursue justice.” 

“There’s no excuse for letting hardened, repeat criminals roam the streets and threaten law-abiding citizens,” said Cotton. “They should be behind bars, and if we pass this simple, straightforward legislation, they will be. The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act will give federal prosecutors the tool they need to focus their efforts on locking up violent, repeat offenders, and everyone who believes in reforming our criminal-justice system should rally to its support.”

Statements of Support: 

The National Association of Police Organizations offered their full support for this bill and wrote a letter endorsing the legislation. Click here to read the full letter.

William J. Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations, Inc.

"When the Supreme Court effectively voided the ACCA in its decision in Johnson v. United States in 2015 due to part of the definition of “violent felony” being unconstitutionally vague, it took away an important tool that law enforcement used to get the worst career criminals off our streets. The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act will fix the ACCA by using a specific definition for “serious felony” and restore the Act, thus giving prosecutors and law enforcement back a significant resource in the fight against violent crime."

The National Sheriffs’ Association has also written a letter of support. Click here to read the full letter.

Jonathan F. Thompson, Executive Director and CEO, National Sheriffs’ Association

“This legislation amends the previously adopted Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984. The Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA) set stronger punishments for repeat criminals as a means to maintain public safety. While this legislation benefited community safety well for over 30 years, a result of vague interpretations led to the early release of violent career offenders. The National Sheriffs’ Association supports Senator Hatch’s and Senator Cotton’s efforts to restrict the early release of dangerous career criminals. We applaud their efforts as they continue to work on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement to improve community safety.”

Background

Originally passed by a unanimous vote in the House and Senate in 1984, the Armed Career Criminal Act requires a minimum 15-year prison sentence for felons convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm who have three prior state or federal convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses, which must have been committed on three different occasions. These are the worst-of-the worst, career criminals. 

The ACCA defines serious drug offenses as those punishable by imprisonment for 10 years or more.  It defines violent felonies as those:

  1. that have an element of threat, attempt, or use of physical force against another;
  2. that involve burglary, arson, or extortion; or
  3. that constitute crimes similar to burglary, arson, or extortion under what is known as the ACCA’s “residual clause” (any crime that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another”).

In 2015, the Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States declared the residual clause unconstitutionally vague and thus effectively void.

 The Johnson Fallout

Many criminals were sentenced under the ACCA and their premature release after the Johnson decision resulted in tragic consequences. In 1991, Jerrod Baum, a neo-Nazi in Utah, allegedly went into a fast food restaurant and fired at employees while trying to rob it.  He was charged with numerous felonies, including attempted murder, and took a plea deal. In 1995, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against a prison guard. In 2003, he was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon. In 2005, he was again convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon, and sentenced under the ACCA to remain in prison until at least 2020.

 The premature release of violent career offenders after Johnson allowed Baum to leave prison early in 2016. In 2018, Baum was arrested and charged for allegedly kidnapping, stabbing, and disposing the bodies of two teenagers in Eureka, Utah, by throwing them down a mineshaft. 

Abe Martinez, another criminal sentenced under the ACCA, had his sentence reduced after Johnson and was transferred to a Utah halfway house earlier this year. A day after walking away from the halfway house, Martinez went to the home of his grandparents in South Salt Lake and killed his 89-year-old grandmother and seriously injured his 71-year-old step grandfather before police shot and killed him. If not for the Johnson decision, Baum and Martinez would have remained in prison and the three innocent people they allegedly murdered would almost certainly be alive.

The Legislative Solution

 The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act of 2018 would do away with the concepts of “violent felony” and “serious drug offense” and replace them with a single category of “serious felony.” A serious felony would be any crime punishable by 10 years or more. By defining “serious felony” solely based on the potential term of imprisonment, the bill would address the vagueness issue and remove any discretion or doubt about which offenses qualify.

 The bill would give federal prosecutors an additional tool to go after the most dangerous, career criminals and would not apply to low-level offenders. Specifically, the ACCA would still apply only in a case where a felon who possesses a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) has previously been convicted three times of serious felonies, which must have been committed on different occasions. 

 

 

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