Taking a case that Scotusblog says could lead to the release of hundreds of prison inmates, the Supreme Court agreed to consider extending to earlier, closed cases its ruling last June limiting prison terms under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act. The U.S. Justice Department believes that the ruling should apply retroactively. Defense lawyers say that at least hundreds of inmates have already served the maximum sentence that would now be allowed under the June ruling but remain in prison under longer sentences. A ruling applying that precedent to them would lead to their prompt release.
The question of the retroactivity of that ruling on enhanced sentencing has resulted in a nine-way split among federal appeals courts. The new case, Welch v. United States, will be argued in March. Gregory Welch of Florida was sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being convicted under a federal law that the Court struck down as too vague. That provision is the so-called “residual clause” in the Armed Career Criminal Act. The law enhances a sentence for illegal possession of a gun by a felon from the ordinary maximum of ten years to a minimum of fifteen years if the individual had previously been convicted of three violent crimes or serious drug crimes.