Under federal law, an armed career criminal is a person who possesses a firearm or ammunition when prohibited and has three or more prior convictions for a violent crime or serious drug offense. As a result of their designation as an armed career criminal, a judge shall impose a minimum term of imprisonment. Additionally, the sentencing range the judge must refer to when determining the term of imprisonment is increased because both the offense level and criminal history category are greater for armed career criminals.
Who Is Considered an Armed Career Criminal?
An armed career criminal is a person who may face enhanced penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The law states that the designation applies to anyone who violates 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and has three or more prior convictions for a violent felony, serious drug crime, or both.
Let’s look at each of those elements in more detail.
Section 922(g) of Title 18 of the United States Code concerns a prohibited person unlawfully possessing, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition.
A prohibited person includes any of the following individuals:
- Those convicted of a felony
- Fugitives from justice
- Controlled substance abusers
- Those found mentally defective
- Foreign nationals illegally in the United States
- Those dishonorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces
- United States citizens who have renounced citizenship
- Those under a restraining order for harassment, stalking, or domestic violence
- Those convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence
As defined by federal law, a violent felony includes offenses:
- Punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year and
- Involving using, attempting to use, or threatening to use physical force against someone or,
- That are burglary, arson, or extortion, or involve explosives or conduct that creates a serious threat of harm to others.
A serious drug offense is a crime as defined by the Controlled Substances Act. However, it does not necessarily have to be a federal offense. A state drug crime involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent and punishable by up to 10 years or more also falls under this category.
What Is the Sentence Enhancement for an Armed Career Criminal?
If a person is designated an armed career criminal, the judge may sentence them to a minimum of 15 years of imprisonment. Additionally, the judge cannot grant the individual probation or a suspension of their prison term.
When the judge refers to the federal sentencing guidelines to determine the range of imprisonment for an armed career criminal, certain enhancements also apply.
For example, the offense level is the greatest of:
- The base level for the offense,
- The offense level plus any adjustments for factors such as victim-related elements, the defendant’s role in the offense, and obstruction of justice;
- 34 if the defendant committed a crime of violence while using or possessing a firearm; or
Additionally, the criminal history category is the greatest of:
- The criminal history category for the offense,
- Category VI if the defendant committed a crime of violence or drug crime while using or possessing a firearm, or
- Category IV in all other situations.
To illustrate the possible sentence that can be imposed upon an armed career criminal, suppose the greatest value for the offense level is 34, and the greatest Criminal History Category is VI. The highest possible term of imprisonment is 27.25 years. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, in 2019, armed career criminals received an average sentence of over 17 years.
Contact Our Firm Today
You can face severe penalties if you are designated an armed career criminal. However, you may seek to avoid or minimize sanctions by aggressively fighting charges against you for violent felonies or serious drug offenses. An experienced criminal defense attorney can pursue a just outcome on your behalf.