The New York Times says the federal Armed Career Criminal Act remains a source of confusion for judges. The law ratchets up sentences to a mandatory minimum of 15 years for felons who illegally possess guns and have three prior violent felony convictions. Some judges have misinterpreted this statute, as happened in the case of John Joel Foster, who could end up serving 15 years in prison rather than 27 months for possession of a firearm because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit wrongly categorized 20-year-old crimes as violent felonies.
Justice Antonin Scalia calls the law unconstitutional because some of its language is so vague that it “permits, indeed invites, arbitrary enforcement.” In a dissent, he wrote, “Many years of prison hinge on whether a crime falls within” the act. The Times calls the Foster case “further evidence that Congress needs to clarify vagueness in the statute, which can lead to grossly unfair results.”