Florida Court Explains Grounds for Deeming a Defendant a Career Criminal

People convicted of felonies often lose certain rights, like the right to possess a weapon. As such, if they are subsequently found with a gun in their possession, they may be charged with a crime. Additionally, depending on their criminal history, they may be sentenced as a career criminal. In a recent Florida gun crime case, the court discussed the grounds for deeming a defendant a career criminal before ultimately determining the defendant was properly classified. If you are charged with a weapons offense, it is smart to meet with a Tampa gun crime defense attorney to determine your options.

History of the Case

It is alleged that in 2021, during a traffic stop, the defendant was found in possession of a firearm and ammunition. He subsequently pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of federal law. Prior to sentencing, the probation office drafted a presentence investigation report that included an enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) due to the defendant’s three prior convictions for crimes that were either violent felonies or serious drug offenses.

It is reported that these convictions included two for aggravated assault in 2003 and 2015 and one for delivery of cocaine in 2007. The defendant objected to the ACCA enhancement, arguing that his prior convictions for aggravated assault did not qualify as violent felonies and his prior drug crime conviction did not qualify as a serious drug offense. However, the district court overruled his objections, deemed each conviction as qualifying under the ACCA, and imposed a 180-month sentence. The defendant appealed.

Grounds for Deeming a Defendant a Career Criminal

On appeal, the court assessed whether the defendant’s prior convictions qualified as violent felonies or serious drug offenses under the ACCA. In doing so, the court explained that under the ACCA, a defendant convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years if he has three prior convictions for a violent felony or a serious drug offense.

The court first addressed whether the defendant’s Florida aggravated assault convictions qualified as violent felonies. Using the categorical approach, the court looked only at the statutory elements of the offense. The court cited a recent Florida case confirming that aggravated assault could not be committed in a reckless manner and thus categorically qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA’s elements clause.

Next, the court examined whether the defendant’s Florida conviction for delivering cocaine qualified as a serious drug offense. The ACCA defines a serious drug offense as one involving the manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance. The court applied the categorical approach to determine if the state statute aligned with the ACCA’s definition.

The defendant argued that Florida law defined cocaine more broadly than federal law due to differences in the treatment of ioflupane. However, the court rejected this argument based on precedent, stating that the relevant drug schedules were those in place at the time of the state offense, not at the time of the federal firearm offense.

Since there was no mismatch in how Florida and federal schedules treated ioflupane at the time of the defendant’s cocaine delivery offense, the court concluded that his conviction qualified as a serious drug offense. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s application of the ACCA enhancement and upheld the defendant’s sentence.

Consult with a Proficient Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are charged with a weapons offense, it is wise to consult with a lawyer to discuss your case. The proficient Tampa gun crime defense lawyers at Hanlon Law can help you achieve the best possible outcome based on the details of your case. Reach out to Hanlon Law using our online form or by calling 813-228-7095 to set up a consultation.

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