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Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA): Using Prior Juvenile Adjudications for Sentence Enhancements

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Publication Date: February 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS22610

Topic: Justice (Judgments and sentences)


With recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding the role of judges and juries in making factual determinations upon which sentences are made, there has been increased congressional interest in federal sentencing. One aspect of federal sentencing includes recidivism statutes that provide longer sentences for repeat offenders. One such statute, the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), requires imposition of a 15-year prison sentence for an individual with prior serious drug or violent felony convictions. Under the ACCA, non-jury juvenile adjudications qualify as prior convictions. The use of these non-jury juvenile adjudications raises several constitutional due process questions and continues to spark debate among courts at the federal and state levels. Opinions vary, in part, because of conflicting interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court's jury trial jurisprudence stressing the constitutional requirement of juries, rather than judges, making factual determinations upon which sentences are based. This report summarizes the competing views on the constitutionality of the use of non-jury juvenile adjudications in subsequent criminal proceedings.