Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alford Plea Can't Support ACCA Prior

US v. Alston: Alston was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The PSR suggested that Alston was subject to the 15-year mandatory sentence under the ACCA due to having three prior convictions in Maryland. One of those convictions, for second-degree assault, an offense which may or may not be a "violent felony" under the ACCA, depending on how it is committed. Unable to determine how the offense was committed from the charging documents, the Government presented a transcript of the guilty plea hearing, at which the prosecutor proffered evidence alleging that Alston threatened several people with a gun - thus committing a violent felony. The plea, however, was an Alford plea, which Alston argued did not establish with "the kind of certainty that Shepard requires" which particular version of the offense he was convicted of committing. The district court disagreed and imposed a 15-year sentence.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit vacated Alston's sentence. Noting that most circuits that have addressed the issue have adopted Alston's position, the court concluded that "a prosecutor's proffer of the factual basis for an Alford plea does not satisfy the requirements of the modified categorical approach" set forth in Shepard. Thus, Alston's sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing.

Congrats to the FPD office in Maryland on the win!

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