The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a portion of the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 enacted by the U.S. Congress. In an 8-1 decision, the justices declared the language "unconstitutionally vague." The Supreme Court's action displays a growing national sentiment against tough-on-crime or three-strikes laws that demand mandatory sentences. This latest decision could affect some Maryland residents who are facing federal criminal charges.
The law in question had been challenged by representatives for a neo-Nazi white supremacist who had been sentenced based on three previous felony convictions. In the case against the white supremacist, the man had received a 15-year sentence because of a firearm conviction for possessing a sawed-off shotgun. Before being struck down, the law counted previous convictions as violent offenses even if no violence occurred. A majority of justices deemed the language too vague because it offered no guidance on which crimes should be considered violent.
Over the past three decades, federal courts across the country had applied the law in different ways. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said this had led to inconsistencies in decisions.
Laws that stand the test of time provide precise language that allows for consistent interpretations. In felony cases, a person facing charges might choose to work with a lawyer who will attempt to create a criminal defense strategy based on widely-accepted interpretations of laws. For example, a lawyer might be able to challenge evidence if it was collected in violation of a person's constitutional protection from unlawful searches and seizures. Additionally, a lawyer might argue that evidence does not meet the standards of the given charges and therefore seek to get charges reduced to a lesser offense.