Wooden v. United States

Has an individual who committed more than one robbery at the same location, but sequentially in time, committed offenses “on occasions different from one another” for purposes of a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”)?  This is the question the Supreme Court will resolve in Wooden v. United States.

Wooden robbed a series of ten ministorage units in a single night, and the Court of Appeals counted each robbery as a separate predicate offense, meaning that the ACCA’s mandatory minimum applied to him based on this single night of crime. But as Wooden argues, Congress reserved the ACCA’s fifteen-year mandatory-minimum sentence for those limited few who, through repeated lawbreaking, have demonstrated their adherence to a life of crime.  That’s not the case of Wooden and other “one-day career criminals” like him. 

We agree. So we filed an amicus brief to highlight how an interpretation of the “occasions” clause in the ACCA that sweeps in Wooden as a “career criminal” runs afoul of both the presumption of consistent usage along with the goals of the ACCA and the broader Comprehensive Crime Control Act (CCCA), of which the ACCA was a part.

Specifically, we argue that the Court should interpret the “occasions” clause consistent with Congress’s goals in passing the CCCA and ACCA: uniformity, deterrence, and incapacitation. An interpretation of the occasions clause in which basically all crimes—even those committed on the same night—were committed on different “occasions” results in a scheme that treats defendants differently based on arbitrary factors like when they committed the crime, the length of commission, and whether they had accomplices. This undermines—rather than serves—the goals that Congress set out to effect in the CCCA and the ACCA.

The case will be argued in the fall of 2021, with a decision expected before June 2022.

Key Documents