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11th Circuit Vacates Sentence for Defendant in the United States v. Jones -- Rules Defendant Should Not Have Been Subjected to Enhanced Sentencing

Here's an interesting case, from a Florida criminal defense perspective.

Defendant Larry Jones was convicted of a felony charge of possessing ammunition and a firearm in Georgia. So what kind of sentence should he have gotten?

A District Court in Georgia decided to impose something called an "enhancement" of Jones' sentence, per a section of the U.S. Code called the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) – also known as 18 U.S.C. 924(e). As a result, Jones got whalloped with a 180 month sentence. Do the math, and that's 15 years behind bars.

Normally, the statute in question only allows a 10 year maximum sentence for Jones' offense. But thanks to the enhancement, five additional years got tagged on. Why?

Per the ACCA, prosecutors can ask for and get an enhancement, if a defendant has three “qualifying convictions” under his belt. Jones argued that, although he had been convicted for generic burglary -- a previous conviction per Alabama Code 13A77 -- that conviction shouldn’t be counted as a “qualifying conviction” for the purposes of the enhancement.

The 11th Circuit Court agreed, vacated his sentence and sent the case back for resentencing because the "error" had profound effects on the defendant’s rights.

Interestingly, back in March 2011, when Jones got sentenced (and hit with the enhancement), the law at the time said that his third degree burglary conviction would have been enough (for the ACCA’s purposes) to get the enhancement. The 11th Circuit Court even noted that “the District Court faithfully followed the precedent.”

So what happened?

In 2013, the Supreme Court decided the case of Descamps v. United States, which changed the rules for when and how previous convictions can be used as an ACCA predicate. The Supreme Court ruled that a conviction cannot “count” in this manner if it “contains a single, indivisible set of elements sweeping more broadly than the corresponding general offense.”

The government tried to make a case that “the doctrine of invited error” should prevent the court from reviewing Jones’s challenge, but the 11th Circuit decided that the doctrine didn’t apply in this case.

The whole mess started back in March 2010, when officers in Mobile found Jones next to a fire at the corner of Davidson Street and Saint Madar Street. They frisked him and found a 380 caliber pistol on his waistband. Jones confessed to being a convicted felon, and authorities arrested and charged him with carrying a pistol without a license.

So what's the moral in all of this?

The main lesson is that the law is fluid. In this case, Jones got lucky. The Supreme Court rendered a decision that gave him room to challenge his enhancement, and he managed to shave at least 5 years (if not potentially more) from a sentence because of that quirk of judicial fate.

Of course, it takes a lot more than good luck to succeed with your defense. Connect with the team here at Seltzer Mayberg, LLC, to construct an appropriate, effective Florida criminal defense. Call us now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (888-843-3333) for a free consultation.

Categories: Criminal Defense
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