Florida Court Analyzes What Constitutes a Violent Crime Under the ACCA

People with an extensive criminal history may face greater penalties if they are convicted for another offense pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Only certain offenses qualify as predicate offenses under the ACCA, though. Recently, a Florida court explained what constitutes a violent offense under the ACCA’s elements clause, in which it deliberated whether a prior conviction for aggravated assault could sustain the defendant’s enhanced sentence under the ACCA. If you are charged with assault, it is wise to confer with a Tampa assault defense lawyer to determine your options for seeking a good outcome.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Due to the defendant’s four prior convictions for violent crimes, the court ruled that the defendant should be sentenced to increased penalties under the ACCA and sentenced him to 211 months in prison.

Allegedly, the court relied on the conclusion that aggravated assault with a deadly weapon qualified as a violent felony under the ACCA. The defendant appealed his conviction and sentence, and the court affirmed. He filed a petition for rehearing, and the court certified his questions to the Florida Supreme Court.

Violent Crimes Under the ACCA Element’s Clause

On appeal, the court answered the question of whether the first element of assault as defined by Florida law required specific intent, and if not, what mens rea was required to establish that element of the law. The court clarified that specific intent is generally understood as designating a special mental element that is required above and beyond any mental state required to establish the act that constitutes the crime.

The court noted, though, that whether assault under Florida law is considered a specific or general intent crime was largely irrelevant, as it did not answer the question of whether it was a violent felony as defined by the elements clause of the ACCA. Instead, the ACCA elements clause expressly required that the defendant direct their actions at a certain target, specifically, another person.

As such, if the Florida aggravated assault crime required that the prosecution show a specific intent to attempt, threaten, or use physical force against another person, then it would qualify as an ACCA violent felony predicate offense, and the defendant’s enhanced sentence under the ACCA must be upheld. In other words, the focus was whether the crime in question required specific intent to direct action instead of whether it was merely a specific intent crime. The court ultimately answered in the affirmative and upheld the defendant’s sentence.

Meet with an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Aggravated assault is considered a violent crime, and an assault conviction can result in increased sentences for people with a criminal history. If you are charged with assault, it is prudent to speak to an attorney about your potential defenses. The experienced Tampa lawyers of Hanlon Law are proficient at helping people charged with crimes seek favorable outcomes, and if you hire us, we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can reach Hanlon Law by using the form online or by calling us at 813-228-7095 to set up a conference.