A felony conviction in Florida often has wide ranging consequences, from jail time and fines to revocation of voting rights. It also means that the person convicted can no longer carry a gun. In U.S. v. Weeks, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explains that possession of a firearm by a convicted felon can mean a long stretch behind bars, depending on the extent of person’s previous convictions.
Mr. Weeks was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he plead guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon. Despite the plea, Weeks argued that he should not have been sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that enhances prison times for convicted felons who commit crimes with guns.
Specifically, the ACCA provides that a previously convicted felon later convicted for possession of a firearm must be sentenced to at least 15 years in prison if the person has at least three prior convictions for either violent felonies or serious drug offenses. These felonies and offenses must have been committed on different occasions in order to qualify under the Act.
A pre-sentence investigation report indicated that Weeks had been previously convicted on four separate violent felony counts – three for burglary of a structure and one for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon – committed on separate occasions. Weeks, however, argued that prosecutors failed to show that these crimes were committed separately. Two of the burglaries, according to Weeks, occurred on the same day at two businesses (Shirley’s Restaurant and the Florida Times Union building) 56 feet apart from each other. Weeks further claimed that the battery charge did not qualify under the ACCA.
A district court denied Weeks’ request to withdraw his guilty plea when it became clear he would be sentenced under the ACCA. Noting that the crime of burglary requires the person charged to enter into a structure unlawfully, the district court said that Weeks committed two separate crimes when he entered and later left the restaurant and then entered the Times Union building next door.
The Eleventh Circuit upheld the decision on appeal. The court first rejected Weeks’ claim that the issue of whether the burglaries were separate crimes under the ACCA should have been decided by a jury, rather than a district court judge. “[D]istrict courts may determine both the existence of prior convictions and the factual nature of those convictions, including whether they were committed on different occasions,” so long as they limit the review to certain documents, according to the court.
The court also ruled that the district court did not err in finding that the three burglaries were separate crimes. The court said the Shirley’s and Florida Times Union burglaries were “temporally distinct.” “The fact that the…burglaries occurred within close proximity to one another is not determinative, as even small gaps in time and place are sufficient to establish separate offenses,” the court explained.
As a result, the court affirmed the district court’s decision sentencing Weeks to 15 years in prison.
As this case makes clear, a criminal conviction can have serious, long lasting effects. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, contact the South Florida criminal defense lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. We have vast experience representing clients throughout the region in a wide variety of cases and we are dedicated to providing an aggressive defense.
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