Published on: Wednesday, October 6, 2021

On the first day of the Supreme Court’s 2021 term on Monday, it heard argument in Wooden v. United States, No. 20-5279, which presents this Circuit split: 

Whether offenses that were committed as part of a single criminal episode, but sequentially in time, are “committed on occasions different from one another” for purposes of a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1)?

Petitioner William Wooden was convicted by a jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). This crime is usually punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. But under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) a defendant is subject to a 15-year mandatory-minimum sentence if he has “has three previous convictions … for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another.”

At sentencing, the government contended that Mr. Wooden was subject to ACCA’s enhanced sentence because of ten prior “violent felony” convictions—burglary of ten ministorage units inside a single structure on the same date. Mr. Wooden objected, arguing that the ministorage burglaries had been committed on the same occasion and thus “should be grouped as one conviction.” The district court agreed with the government and sentenced Mr. Wooden to 188 months in prison as an armed career criminal, relying on Sixth Circuit precedent that prior offenses are automatically deemed as having been committed on occasions different from one another under ACCA if “it is possible to discern the point at which the first offense is completed and the subsequent point at which the second offense begins.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Court will now decide when offenses are “committed on occasions different from one another” under ACCA.

Merits briefing is available on the Supreme Court’s website here. A transcript of the argument is available here.