U.S. Supreme Court rules misdemeanor counts as "violent felony".

AuthorZiemer, David

Byline: David Ziemer

Because civil rights aren't lost upon conviction of a Wisconsin misdemeanor, they can't be restored, and those misdemeanor convictions must be counted as prior violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), if the maximum penalty is three years.

The result may be anomalous, because more serious felony convictions can be exempted from the statute if civil rights are later restored to the defendant, but the result is not absurd.

In so holding, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued Dec. 4 affirms holdings of U.S. District Court Judge John C. Shabaz and the Seventh Circuit.

A Janesville man, James D. Logan pleaded guilty in the Western District of Wisconsin to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).

The maximum penalty is generally 10 years. However, if a defendant has three prior convictions for a violent felony, the minimum sentence is 15 years.

Logan had previous convictions in Wisconsin state court for misdemeanor batteries. Although misdemeanors, they counted as violent felonies under the ACCA, because Wisconsin's repeater statute provided a maximum penalty of three years at the time.

18 U.S.C. 921(a)(10) exempts from the statute, convictions which have been expunged, or those for which a defendant has been pardoned or had his civil rights restored.

Logan argued that his Wisconsin misdemeanor convictions did not qualify as ACCA predicate offenses because they caused no loss of his civil rights. Rights retained, he argued, are functionally equivalent to rights revoked but later restored.

However, the district court, the Seventh Circuit, and now, the U.S. Supreme Court, disagreed.

The court concluded that an offender whose civil rights have been neither diminished nor returned has not had them restored under the plain meaning of the word.

Logan argued that the plain meaning interpretation is absurd, because, unless retention of rights is treated as equivalent to restoration of rights, less serious offenders are subject to more heightened punishment than more serious offenders.

The court recognized the anomalies noted by Logan. However, the court found nothing absurd in its interpretation, because Logan's interpretation would create anomalies as well. For example, the State of Maine does not deprive any offenders of their civil rights, even for first-degree murder. Thus, under Logan's interpretation, first-degree murders committed...

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