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Judicial interpretation of what constitutes a “violent felony” when determining whether a defendant qualifies as an armed career criminal is a frequent issue in appellate litigation, and this week was no exception.
Thursday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Florida prior for false imprisonment triggers armed career criminal status.
Police busted Appellant Carl Schneider in 2009 on gun and drug charges. Schneider accepted the underlying convictions, but appealed his armed career criminal sentence enhancement. The enhancement allows for harsher penalties against defendants who have committed violent felonies in the past.
In Florida, false imprisonment means "forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will." It is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years of imprisonment.
At Schneider's final sentencing hearing, the judge carefully analyzed the case law and decided that the Armed Career Criminal Act did indeed apply, requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
The judge concluded that, in the ordinary case, Florida false imprisonment carries a serious potential risk of physical injury to another, and that the crime is similar in kind to the crimes enumerated in the Act. The judge said that "if the Armed Career Criminal Act were not applicable ... I would not impose a sentence of 15 years in this case on Mr. Schneider."
After examining the Supreme Court's Sykes v. U.S. and the circuit's own U.S. v. Chitwood ruling from April, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the armed career criminal finding. The court concluded that "Florida false imprisonment, even when accomplished secretly, produces "a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" for purposes of the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act.
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