In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015).
Johnson’s specific holding was that the so-called residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutional. The ACCA is a sentencing enhancement provision that proscribes mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentences for offenders convicted of certain firearm offenses, when that offender has prior criminal convictions for three serious drug trafficking offenses and/or violent felonies.
What constitutes a violent felony requires an in-depth legal analysis. But the Johnson ruling effectively limited the definition of violent felony by declaring that the residual clause portion of the definition of violent felony is unconstitutional. After Johnson, offenses that used to be deemed violent felonies under the residual clause may no longer be properly categorized.
The Johnson ruling also has implications for those who are sentenced as Career Offenders. Courts are taking the position that the Johnson rationale also applies to the so-called residual clause of the crime of violence definition in the Career Offender guideline, U.S.S.G. ‘ 4B1.1 and ‘ 4B1.2.
Thus, Johnson has broad implications for those who will be sentenced as Career Offenders, or under the ACCA and its related guideline. It is important that affected defendants have experienced counsel to navigate through the statutes and the sentencing guidelines for purposes of a Johnson analysis.
For those who have already been sentenced under either the Career Offender guideline or the ACCA, relief may be available. The potential avenues for relief will be different depending on whether or not the defendant has a direct appeal pending. Some defendants may only have an avenue of pursuing relief through a 28 U.S.C. ‘ 2255 (habeas corpus) motion.
Either way, it is important that anyone who wants to attempt to obtain relief under Johnson, should do so immediately. It is probable that ‘ 2255 motions based on Johnson will have to be filed on or before June 26, 2016 in order for there to be any possibility of relief.