Supreme Court rules increased sentences under ACCA unconstitutional

Supreme Court rules increased sentences under ACCA unconstitutional

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-1 in Johnson v. United States [SCOTUSblog materials] that increasing sentences on certain felons found in illegal possession of a firearm under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) [text] violates the due process clause [LII backgrounder] of the Fifth Amendment. The ACCA allows for an increased punishment if a criminal has committed three or more “violent felonies.” In this case, one of the previous crimes was the possession of a sawed-off shotgun and the issue was whether the law made it clear that this was an included offense. The court ruled that this so-called “residual clause” was unconstitutionally vague, because it did not clearly outline what constituted a violent felony. The ruling reversed an earlier decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

This case is the fifth in seven years [SCOTUSblog op-ed] to address ACCA’s residual clause. The court granted certiorari to the case in April 2014 and originally heard oral arguments in November before ordering a reargument [JURIST reports] oral arguments specific to the question of vagueness.