18 U.S. Code Sec. 924(e), more commonly known as the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) is a federal criminal enhancement provision that institutes a mandatory 15-year minimum for individuals found guilty of certain firearms offenses under federal law.

Underlying Offense

The ACCA applies to individuals convicted of various federal firearms offenses.  The most common underlying offenses are:

  • Felon in possession of a firearm
  • Possession of a firearm by an individual with a previous conviction for a crime of domestic violence
  • Illegal alien in in possession of a firearm

Enhancement Offenses

In order for the ACCA to apply, the court must find that the defendant has been previously convicted of three “serious drug offenses” or “violent felonies” or any combination thereof.  The prior convictions must have been committed on occasions different from one another (e.g., three convictions of otherwise qualifying resulting from a single transaction could not alone be used to enhance a defendant under the ACCA).

  • Serious drug offense: federal controlled substance crimes that carry a maximum punishment of ten years or more and state law crimes involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute that carry a maximum punishment of ten years (in Texas, second degree felonies and above).
  • Violent Felony: any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult (i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

Notably, the Court may consider juvenile adjudications that would be considered serious drug offenses or violent felonies if committed by an adult.


Punishment under the ACCA ranges from a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of life in prison.  Since the 15-year minimum is a statutory provision, the court cannot sentence a defendant below the minimum absent legal authority to do so.  A defendant may qualify for relief from the 15-year minimum if he or she provides substantial assistance to the government in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.  Under 18 U.S. Code Sec. 3553(e), if the government files a motion pursuant to that section, the court shall have the authority to impose a sentence a statutory minimum.  Whether the court ultimately sentenced a defendant below the statutory minimum is discretionary.

© 2021 David A. Nachtigall, Attorney at Law, PLLC