How a “No-Contest” Plea Can Come Back to Haunt You
Although the federal government and the State of Florida maintain separate criminal justice systems, what happens to a defendant in one can affect their rights in the other. For example, under a federal criminal statute known as the Armed Career Criminal Act, a defendant faces additional penalties at sentencing if they have three or more prior convictions for certain types of crimes. This includes criminal offenses tried at the state level.
Defendant Receives 15-Year Sentence on Federal Gun Charge Due to Prior Florida Criminal Record
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the broad scope of the ACCA. This case, United States v. Lee, involved a Florida defendant. Police in Pensacola responded to a local hotel’s complaint regarding a group of guests who refused to vacate their room. The room was registered to the defendant. As police proceeded to remove the defendant from the property, they found a .22 caliber pistol in the room.
Federal prosecutors charged the defendant for being “a felon in possession of a firearm.” The defendant pleaded guilty to this charge. Before the sentencing judge, the government introduced evidence of the defendant’s three prior felony convictions in the State of Florida, including aggravated battery in 2001 and felony battery in 2015. Based on this, the judge determined the defendant was an “armed career criminal” under the ACCA and ultimately sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
On appeal to the 11th Circuit, the defendant argued his 2001 and 2015 convictions were the result of “no-contest” or nolo contendere pleas, which should not count towards the three felony convictions required under the ACCA. A no-contest plea basically means the defendant does not necessarily admit to the factual allegations made by the prosecution, but he nevertheless agrees to waive his right to a trial and accept punishment from the court.
But as the 11th Circuit explained in its opinion rejecting the defendant’s appeal, it treats “Florida nolo convictions no differently than convictions based on guilty pleas or verdicts of guilt” for purposes of federal sentencing rules, which in this case includes the ACCA.
More to the point, in pleading nolo contendere, the defendant accepted the reports filed by the arresting officers as the “factual basis” for his pleas. This meant the sentencing judge in the federal case was allowed to use the information in those arrest reports when assessing the defendant’s “armed career criminal” status. The 11th Circuit therefore upheld the 15-year sentence.
Speak with a Miami Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Entering a no-contest plea is often viewed as a way to quickly resolve a criminal case. But as you can see, such pleas can have serious long-term ramifications if you find yourself in trouble with the law again. This is why you should consult with a qualified Miami criminal attorney before deciding how to proceed with your case. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305.676.9545 to schedule a consultation so we can sit down and talk about your case.