Washington, D.C. - Today, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) 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.
"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."
"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."
Statements of Support:
The National Association of Police Organizations offered their full support for this bill. In addition, the National Sheriffs' Association has written a letter of support with over 3,000 elected sheriffs nationwide. 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."
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 2016, Cornelius Spencer, a gang member guilty of nine felonies including drug trafficking, aggravated assault, and robbery, was released a full five years before his sentence was up. Earlier this year, he was charged with raping two homeless Arkansans, a 62-year-old woman and a 21-year-old autistic man. These crimes would've never happened if Spencer hadn't been prematurely released.
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.