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Massachusetts Court Considers Whether Juvenile Adjudications Qualify as Predicate Offenses under the ACCA

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case discussing whether a defendant who is found guilty of a qualifying offense, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent of another qualifying juvenile offense, can be sentenced as a repeat offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In discussing the issue, the court conducted an analysis of the Eighth Amendment protection from “cruel and usual” punishment. However, the court ultimately concluded that qualifying juvenile adjudications may count as predicate offenses under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in a Massachusetts gun case. After a jury trial, but before the defendant was sentenced, the issue was raised as to whether the defendant should be sentenced under the ACCA as a repeat offender. Specifically, the issue presented to the court was whether the defendant’s juvenile adjudications, of which there were two, counted as “convictions” under the ACCA.

The Massachusetts ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment under which those who have previous qualifying convictions are sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences based on the number of previous qualifying convictions. The mandatory sentence for each subsequent conviction gets longer, ultimately reaching a sentence of 15 to 20 years for those with three or more qualifying convictions.

The Court’s Analysis

A few years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Miller v. Alabama, holding that juvenile offenders cannot automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That is not to say a juvenile offender cannot be given a life sentence without parole, only that the court must conduct a hearing prior to giving such a sentence. In that case, the court engaged in an in-depth discussion of how the Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and usual punishment applied to youthful offenders. One of the arguments the court considered persuasive was the fact that younger offenders still have ample opportunity to be rehabilitated.

Moving on to the case at hand, the court explained that in cases involving adult defendants who had previously been adjudicated for violent crimes when they were younger, these defendants had been given the opportunity to be rehabilitated at the time of adjudication, but had failed to take advantage of that opportunity as evidenced by the more recent conviction. Therefore, the court held that one of the key factors behind the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama did not apply to this situation. Thus, the court held that the an adult defendant who had previous qualifying adjudications as a minor could be constitutionally sentenced as a repeat offender under the ACCA.

Have You Been Charged with a Violent Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a violent crime in the Boston area, you should consult with a dedicated Massachusetts criminal defense attorney. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy is a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney who represents those who have been charged with all types of serious crimes. Attorney Murphy works tirelessly to defend the rights of those facing serious allegations, including, gun possession, drug possession and sales, assault, and other violent crimes. To learn more, and to speak with Attorney Murphy about your case, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Court Explains the Difference Between “Attempted” and “Threatened” Battery, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published September 1, 2018

Massachusetts Court Upholds Officer’s Frisk Although It Was Not Justified at Its Inception, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published July 6, 2018