Objective Legal Memorandum

ObjectiveLegal Memorandum




January 22, 2016

RE:Applicability of enhanced sentence under the Armed Career CriminalAct to a defendant with three prior offenses

Statementof the Case

JohnWatson (“Watson”) is appealing a sentence enhancement under 18U.S.C. §924(e) Armed Career Criminal Act (the “Act”). This memowill address whether Watson’s conviction for conspiracy to commitarmed robbery qualifies as a violent felony under the act.


I. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), whether conspiracy tocommit armed robbery, absent any overt act in furtherance of thecrime, can be considered a violent felony, justifying a mandatorysentence enhancement.

A.Whether Watson committed an unarmed robbery despite his juvenile age.Under the state laws, he was kept in a boy’s home until he reached18 years. It is notable that he was later re-arrested on suspicionfor committing criminal activities.

B.Whether there was a conspiracy to commit robbery, the jury admitsthat there was no intention to use prior convictions. Watson’scriminal history required a sentence enhancement considering theACCA. The jury also has a consideration whether the previousconviction for conspiracy to commit crime amounted to ‘violentfelony’.


I.Probably yes. Watson has been convicted for three times hence thecourt does not error in enhancing the sentence under the ArmedCareer Criminal Act.Despite the earlier convictions, Watson continues to engage inconspiracy to crimes. Possession of firearm is in itself a matterthat needs thorough examination to determine his intentions. It wouldbe prudent for the court to uphold their decision to sentence him fora 15 years imprisonment.

A.It is unlikely that Watson is not a felony, going by the previousconvictions. The ACCA provides the courts with an opportunity toenhance his sentence now he has been implicated in other crimes.

B.It is unlikely that Watson was unaware of the Act.Looking at his defense’s views, it is clear that he could beconspiring with other individuals for purposes of cover-up.

Statementof Facts

Watsonhas three prior offenses. The first offence was committed as ajuvenile delinquent for committing unarmed robbery in October of2009. Watson was seventeen years old at the time. The juvenilecourt committed Watson to the State’s boys’ home until hiseighteenth birthday. In December of 2010, Watson was convicted ofconspiracy to commit armed robbery and sentenced to two yearsimprisonment. In February 2014, Watson was convicted for burglary.


I.Of Watson’s three prior offenses, the one which is in question asto whether it is a violent felony under the Act, is his December 2010conviction for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The apparentobject of conspiring to commit armed robbery is a violent felonyUnder the Act. Under §924(e)(B)(i) the target crime is not included,only those elements which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubtincluding the use, attempted use, or threatened use of violenceaccording to the Fifth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits.

UnitedStates v. Gore,636 F.3d 728,731(5thCir. 2011)

Inthe case, UnitedStates v. Gore,Thomas Gore was convicted for conspiracy to commit robbery thatamounted to ‘serious crime’ under the ArmedCareer Criminal Act.The court sentenced Gore as a serial offender(Court Listener, 2011).His possession of a weapon was in contravention of the law. He hadpreviously been convicted for two serious crimes as well asconspiracy to crime felony. Although the defendants had repealed thejudgment, the jury upheld their decision to convict Gore under theACCA. The court sentenced him for a period of 15 months. In theirarguments, the jury asserted that the Actprovidesthat individuals found guilty for possession of firearm are subjectto a fixed sentence of 15 years if he or she has three previousconvictions for serious crimes. In fact, the Actdefines ‘violent felony’ as a crime that is punishable by asentence of at least one year. It also provides that such a crimemust have an element of threat and physical force on anotherindividual. As such, the jury argued that conspiracy to commit forcedrobbery is a crime whose punishment exceeds one year imprisonment.Gore attempted to insinuate that the Texas law does not provide anelement of threat to warrant conviction for conspiracy to commitserious crime. Nonetheless, the court used three other statues suchTexas Penal Code to obtain elements of conspiracy to commit felony.The statute provides that an individual commits criminal conspiracyif he or she willingly or recklessly causes harm to anotherindividual. The Texas robbery statute argues that an individualcommits an offence when he or she uses force to control of property.

Intheir conclusion, the jury asserted that conspiracyto commit aggravated robbery in the case had elements of violence andproperty crime. It also caused injury to the victim(s). Robbery, initself, is a violent criminal activity. In the judgment, the courtobserved that robbery is a violent crime under the ResidualClauseand ACCA. Conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery is similar tocommit the crime. Further, the jury concluded that conspiracy tocommit crime poses great risk with potential to cause physical harm.The Supreme Court had previously ruled that offences such asextortion are similar to robbery. TheUnited States Sentencing Commissionconsiders that conspiracy to commit felony is a form of ‘crime ofviolence’ (Putman, 2009).

UnitedStates v. Whitson, 597F. 3d 1218 (11thCir. 2010)

Inthe case UnitedStates v. Whitson,the accused pleads guilty after being found importing cocaine in2008. Whitson admitted hiding cocaine in his sandals, with aim ofsmuggling the drug into the US. The probation officer argued thatWhitson was a career offender under the sentencingguidelines.However, Whitson argued that her previous conviction did not qualifyas a ‘crime of violence’. She asserted that classifying theconspiracy act as a ‘crime of violence’ was incoherent with theSupreme Court`s ruling in Begayv. United States.In their assessment, the jury asserted that scheme to commit crime isa resolute act. The Florida statute necessitates that theconspirators’ intention is to crime (Gardner&amp Anderson, 2014).Nonetheless, it argues that an overt act to enhance conspiracy doesnot necessarily demonstrate the crime. Inthe case UnitedStates v. White,the Fourth Circuit argued that conspiracy to commit robbery using acrude weapon is serious felony under the ArmedCareer Criminal Act.Theprosecutor Whileappliesthe Begaytestwhile the jury found no connection with the case in assessment of thedegree of risk. The jury observed that Begayanalysis requires separation of offences and a conspiracy. Therebeing no indications of aggression or violence in the case, the courtconcluded that non-overt act conspiracy does not amount to ‘crimeof violence’. The jury vacated the case basing their arguments onthe need to prove elements of conspiracy. As such, Whitson was notsubjected to sentence enhancement under the ACCA(Casetext, Inc., 2010).

UnitedStates v. Fell,511 F.3d 1035 (10thCir. 2007)

Fellwas convicted on two accounts for possession of a firearm, an actthat violates the American laws. He pleaded guilty in one accountwhile the second one was thrown out by the government. Under the pleaagreement, the parties identified Fell’s previous convictions inColorado. The convictions included menacing, conspiracy to commitsecond degree burglary, and an attempted escape. The government andFell argued that the conspiracy case did amount to violent crime forconsideration under the ACCA (United States, 1985). The districtcourt observed that Fell could be sentenced as a career criminal.Fell entered a guilty plea hence making the jury to designate theprevious charges as serious crimes. Relying on the UnitedStates v. Brown,Fell objected the PSR treatment of his conspiracy charges. He wassentenced to 15 years imprisonment for being an armed careercriminal. The jury was in agreement that Fell misused his firearm toconspire to commit crime. The previous convictions augmented thejury’s argument that the sentence ought to be enhanced under theACCA(Casetext,Inc., 2007).

2.An opposite view of the three prior statutory interpretations areUnitedStates v. Preston,910 F.2d 81 (3rdCir. 1990), and UnitedStates v. Johnson,962 F.2d 1308 (8thCir. 1992). The dissenting voices offer important findings, includingthe court procedures and due process. Nonetheless, the two casesabove do not inform the determination of the Watson’s judgment asthe due process was followed.

Inthe case UnitedStates v. Preston,the judgment offered gave an opposite view of interpretation of theACCA. Preston had appealed the enhanced sentence given under theCareerCriminals Amendment Act. After Preston’s conviction for illegal possession of firearm, thegovernment presented additional charges. The aim was to satisfy thethreshold for enhanced sentence. In its determination for the degreeof burglary, the court argued that it was necessary to look beyondthe mere definition of the previous convictions and statutes onconspiracy to commit serious crimes. It was upheld by the court thatburglary can only constitute to enhanced sentence if the statutorydefinition corresponds with the ‘generic crime’(Open Jurist, 1990).The criminal justice systems normally try to mince crime rates bygetting more offenses to the justice while giving confidence topeople that the practice is fair. Administrationof justice is prone to various challenges such as misconception,myths and inaccuracies that confront both the liberal andconservative perspectives.

Inthe case UnitedStates v. Johnson,the jury argued that imposing an enhanced sentence under the ACCA didnot follow the due process. The jury gave a judgment that the Johnsoncould be convicted under the Act(SCOTUSblog, 2015).Criminal procedure explains the rules that govern the proceedings ina judicial system. Thereare divergent procedures in the cases depending on the state althoughthey are largely guided by the constitution. The courts have distinctjurisdictions depending on the nature of the cases handled. Thecomposition of the bench and lay assessors is dependent on thesituation and the magnitude of the case. The judges are required touse the law in the determination of the innocence or guilt of anindividual as well as give a ruling on the sentence.The established codes give certain rights to people and establish theprocess to be followed when someone is on trial. The due processallows people to use the right procedures and exhaust all avenues inthe course of the trial process. It allows for the provision ofelaborate information regarding the matters that have impacts ontheir privileges (California, 1971).

Whilecriminal justice focuses on the practical, applied concerns,criminology studies the forms of criminal behavior, the causes ofcrime, the definition of criminality, and the societal reaction tocriminal activities. Crimes take different components depending onthe outlook and situations. The idea of linking the study with thevarious components of violence in the society is imperative inbringing out a clear picture on the better perspective oncriminology. On its part, positivist school brings a clear picture onwhy individuals engage in criminal behaviors. Whereas one cannotpinpoint that all criminals are born, it is clear that the attributesof an individual, social and psychological factors play a significantrole in one’s participation in crime. From this perspective, it isessential for the operators within the criminal system to understandthe causes of crimes. This will require both ‘common sense andnon-sense’ viewpoint that would inform on the appropriate measuresto minimize the negative effects of crime. It is common knowledgethat crimes will never cease to occur as long there are laws and badelements within the society. Whether one is lay assessor, lawenforcer or magistrate, the concept is instrumental in influencingthe rational thinking among the practitioners(Hagan, 2011).


TheArmed Career Criminal Act isan important legislation in the justice system. The drafters of thelaw had in mind that offenders are likely to engage in other crimes.In their thinking, the drafters saw the importance of enhancingsentence for individuals engaging in serious crimes. The Actservesa good purpose in the justice system as it ensures that the culpritsare punished appropriately. The arguments and counter-arguments givenin the above cases are instrumental in enhancing the administrationof justice. Nonetheless, it is important that the jury offer commonapproach in the definition of the various elements that constitute‘conspiracy to commit serious felonies. It is also essential toconsider the various court procedures to allow similarity in thejudgments. Court proceduresallow for pre-trial sessions in order to familiarize the defendantsand the prosecution about the procedures. The pre-trial sessions arealso meant to settle disputes and help the teams in the preparationof their cases. Further,the judicial system allows an individual to appeal against thedecision made by the jury. It is evident that an individual canappeal from the lower courts until he or she gets the last resort atthe Supreme Court(Signorelli, 2011).A presiding judge administers the trial procedures but the statutesof evidence in the judicial process are complicated in the US. TheFederal Rules of Criminal Procedure argues that any judgment must beunanimous.


California.,LEXIS Law Publishing., &amp Bancroft-Whitney Company. (1971). Penalcode, annotated, of the State of California: Adopted February 14,1872, with amendments.San Francisco: LEXIS Law Pub.

Casetext,Inc. (2007). U.S.V. FELL.Retrieved January 20, 2016, from https://casetext.com/case/us-v-fell

Casetext,Inc. (2011). U.S.V. WATSON.Retrieved January 20, 2016, fromhttps://casetext.com/case/us-v-watson-162

Casetext,Inc. (2010). U.S.V. WHITSON.Retrieved January 20, 2016, fromhttps://casetext.com/case/us-v-whitson

CourtListener. (2011). UnitedStates v. Gore, 636 F.3d 728 (5th Cir. 2011).Retrieved January 20, 2016, fromhttps://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/213418/united-states-v-gore/

Gardner,T. J., &amp Anderson, T. M. (2014). Criminallaw.Australia: Wadsworth.

Hagan,F. E. (2011). Introductionto criminology : theories, methods, and criminal behavior.Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

OpenJurist. (1990). 910F. 2d 81 – United States v. M Preston.Retrieved January 20, 2016, fromhttp://openjurist.org/910/f2d/81/united-states-v-m-preston

Putman,W. H. (2009). Legalanalysis and writing.Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.

SCOTUSblog.(2015). Johnsonv. United States.Retrieved January 20, 2016, fromhttp://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/johnson-v-united-states-3/

Signorelli,W. P. (2011). CriminalLaw, Procedure, and Evidence.New York: CRC Press.

UnitedStates. (1985). ArmedCareer Criminal Act: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime of theCommittee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighthCongress, second session, on H.R. 1627 and S. 52 … June 28, 1984.Washington: U.S. G.P.O.

UnitedStates reports: Cases adjudged in the supreme court at october term,2008.(2014). Washington: U S Govt. Printing Office.

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