2nd Degree Assault Not Violent for ACCA

Federal Criminal Defense

Second degree assault in Maryland can no longer be counted as a crime of violence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), according to a Fourth Circuit opinion issued today by a unanimous panel, United States v. Thomas Royal. This ruling has been a long time in the making, but it is good to see that the issue has finally been laid to rest.

The bottom line is that far fewer people will be categorized as Armed Career Criminals, which saves these people from draconian 15-year mandatory sentences. In addition, the ruling is very likely to apply to career offender designations. We still do not know how this will play out for people who have already been sentenced to enhanced sentences based on a second-degree assault conviction. But rest assured we will be litigating this in the very near future. We promise to keep you updated.

The ruling is based on a highly technical issue. The important thing to understand is that under Maryland’s second degree assault statute, the offense is not always a crime of violence. Therefore, when a federal defendant was previously convicted of state court second degree assault, the federal sentencing court, when calculating the defendant’s criminal history, cannot just assume that they have a conviction for a “crime of violence” as defined under the Armed Career Criminal Act. In addition, under prevailing Supreme Court law, Maryland’s second degree assault statute is not the type of alternative-offense statute for which the sentencing court is allowed to dig into the state court record to determine if the offense was in fact violent. Thus, we are left with the conclusion that the statute can never be counted as a violent offense.

This issue has been litigated in the federal courts for nearly a decade. Much of these efforts have been spearheaded by Paresh Patel of the office of the public defender, but dozens of other lawyers have been involved in the fight. Congratulations to everyone who was involved!