Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced the Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act, legislation that will protect Americans from violent crime. The legislation reinstates an important tool for prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties against violent, repeat offenders. For bill text, click here.
Representative David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) also introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The practice of releasing violent serial criminals has to end,” said Blackburn. “Repeat offenders should not be rewarded with the freedom to needlessly victimize more law-abiding Americans. Violent, repeat criminals should be behind bars, not roaming the streets threatening law-abiding citizens. The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act will give back federal prosecutors the tool they need to lock up hardened, repeat offenders.” said Cotton.
“At a time when crime rates are increasing across the country, we need to do all we can to ensure prosecutors and judges have the tools they need to keep the most violent, serial offenders off the streets,” said Hyde-Smith. “This legislation would do just that by fixing shortcomings in an older law that attempted to address how to protect the public from those who repeatedly commit serious felonies.”
“Our local law enforcement officers work around the clock to keep our citizens and communities safe. The least we can do to support them is ensure that fewer violent criminals are released back on the streets. As we recognize this week as National Police Week, I am honored to re-introduce this commonsense measure,” said Kustoff. “I look forward to passing this bill to not only protect the American people, but to help our brave men and women in law enforcement.”
“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,” said William J. Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations.
For full text of the National Association of Police Organization’s letter of support, click here.
The National Sheriffs’ Association has also endorsed the legislation.
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.
In 2018, he was charged with raping two Arkansans, including a 62-year-old woman and a 21-year-old autistic, homeless man. These crimes would’ve never happened if Spencer hadn’t been prematurely released.
The Legislative Solution
The Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act 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.