Edward Young received a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for the crime of possessing seven shotgun shells belonging to his widowed neighbor. At sentencing he was confronted with the harshness of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).
This sentence was upheld on appeal by the Sixth Circuit this week in an opinion that recognizes the severity of the sentence and questions the logic of a law that requires mandatory action by the court and prevents judicial discretion.
At the District Court, Judge Collier compared Young’s story to a Charles Dickens novel and noted, “a lot of people think these laws are unfair”. Nonetheless the court understood that precedent required the mandatory 15-year sentence.
On appeal Sixth Circuit Judge Stranch added: “we judges have a right-a duty even-to express criticism of legislative judgments that require us to uphold results we think are wrong. I therefore joined the continuous flood of voices expressing concern that the ACCA and other mandatory minimum laws are ineffective at achieving their purpose and damaging to our federal criminal system and our nation. I commend this case is another example of the need to reconsider the ACCA and mandatory sentencing in general.”
Although Young’s sentence of 15 years is viewed as a wildly disproportionate to the passive possession of ammunition, prosecutors indicated that it was his recidivism for burglary, theft, vandalism, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor that motivated law enforcement to prosecute him in this federal arena.
Read the full opinion here.