Sentencing Commission Publishes New Report
The United States Sentencing Commission has published a new report titled Federal Armed Career Criminals: Prevalence, Patterns and Pathways (click for PDF). The report has significant information for lawyers, accused persons and their families. The Armed Career Criminal Act has a substantial impact on United States Sentencing Law.
What is the United States Sentencing Commission?
The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch of government. Its principal purposes are:
(1) to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts, including guidelines to be consulted regarding the appropriate form and severity of punishment for offenders convicted of federal crimes;
(2) to advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective and efficient crime policy; and
(3) to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues, serving as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.
What is an Armed Career Criminal?
As part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, Congress established the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 in response to concerns that a small number of repeat offenders commit a disproportionate number of offenses. The Act focuses on the incapacitation of these habitual offenders by incarceration.
The ACCA requires a 15-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for offenders who violate 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and have three or more prior convictions for a “violent felony,” a “serious drug offense,” or both. Section 922(g) criminalizes the possession, receipt, or transport of a firearm by certain prohibited persons
Overview of Report
(Published March 3, 2021) This report provides information on offenders sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (hereinafter “the Act” or “the ACCA”) using data collected by the Commission. This report provides an overview of the ACCA and its implementation in the federal sentencing guidelines. It also includes information on offender and offense characteristics, criminal histories, and recidivism of armed career criminals.
Key Findings of Report
The Key Findings of this Report are as follows:
- Armed career criminals consistently comprise a small portion of the federal criminal caseload, representing less than one percent of the federal criminal caseload. During the ten-year study period, the number of armed career criminals decreased by almost half, from 590 in fiscal year 2010 to 312 in fiscal year 2019.
- Armed career criminals receive substantial sentences. Offenders who were subject to the ACCA’s 15-year mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing received an average sentence of 206 months in fiscal year 2019. Offenders who were relieved of the mandatory minimum for providing substantial assistance to the government received significantly shorter sentences, an average of 116 months in fiscal year 2019.
- Armed career criminals have extensive criminal histories. Even prior to application of the armed career criminal guideline, 90.5 percent of armed career criminals qualified for the three most serious Criminal History Categories under the guidelines, and almost half (49.4%) qualified for Criminal History Category VI, the most serious category under the guidelines.
- The overwhelming majority of armed career criminals had prior convictions for violent offenses. In fiscal year 2019, 83.7 percent of armed career criminals had prior convictions for violent offenses, including 57.7 percent who had three or more such convictions. Despite the predominance of violence in their criminal history, the most common prior conviction for armed career criminals was for public order offenses, with 85.3 percent having at least one such prior conviction.
- More than half (59.0%) of armed career criminals released into the community between 2009 and 2011 were rearrested within an eight-year follow-up period. When armed career criminals recidivated, their median time to rearrest was 16 months and the most serious common new offense was assault (28.2%).
- Recidivism rates of armed career criminals varied depending on whether they had prior convictions for violent offenses and the number of such prior convictions.
- Nearly two-thirds (62.5%) of armed career criminals with prior violent convictions and no prior drug trafficking convictions, and more than half (55.0%) of armed career criminals with both prior violent and drug trafficking convictions were rearrested within the eight-year follow-up period. In comparison, only 36.4 percent of armed career criminals with prior drug trafficking convictions and no prior violent convictions were rearrested during the study period, but there were only 12 such offenders.
- Furthermore, 61.7 percent of armed career criminals with three or more prior violent convictions were rearrested during the eight-year follow-up period compared to 48.9 percent of armed career criminals with one or two prior violent convictions.