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The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) rewards those who are committed to a life of violent crime with longer prison penalties. The courts, however, often grapple with how to apply the Act.
This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the scope of predicate, “violent” offenses under the ACCA, and decided escaping custody qualifies as a violent crime.
Keith Baker, a convicted felon, was convicted in 2010 of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Baker's presentence report indicated that he had ten prior felony convictions, five of which were violent felonies. The court thus classified Baker as an armed career criminal, and applied the ACCA sentencing enhancement; Baker was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release.
Baker appealed the sentence, arguing that his three escape-related offenses were not violent felonies under the ACCA.
The ACCA defines violent felony as "any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult, that (i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Baker's escape offenses qualified as violent felonies because prisons are inherently dangerous, and escape attempts could have "explosive consequences." Furthermore, the court reasoned that escape attempts "present a risk of violent confrontation at least as great as that of a burglary," which is explicitly-defined as a violent felony under the Act.
If you're defending an armed career criminal candidate, or a prison escape artist, keep in mind that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals considers escape to be a violent felony.