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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Armed Career Criminal Status Put to Justices

WASHINGTON (CN) - A white supremacist persuaded the Supreme Court on Monday to consider whether he was properly sentenced as an armed career criminal.

Samuel Johnson's record includes a conviction for attempted simple robbery in Minnesota.

In 1999, over a decade before he founded the Aryan Liberation Movement, Johnson had put a BB gun to the head of an individual and demanded money.

The victim did not know the weapon was not a handgun.

Johnson had also pleaded guilty in 2007 to robbing an individual at gunpoint in a parking lot.

And later that year, Johnson was convicted of possessing a short-barreled shotgun during a drug sale.

The characterization of these crimes as violent felonies came under scrutiny upon his arrest in 2012 for being an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm.

Prosecutors claimed that Johnson had disclosed to undercover FBI agents that he manufactured napalm, silencers, and other explosives for the Aryan Liberation Movement. He also allegedly showed an undercover officer his AK-47 rifle and a large cache of ammunition containing approximately 1,100 rounds. The 2012 charges also considered Johnson's possession of a .22 caliber semi-automatic assault rifle and a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun.

Johnson had agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges but balked because he would face a mandatory minimum 15-year term of imprisonment as an "Armed Career Criminal."

In addition to claiming that his prior convictions for short-barreled shotgun possession, simple robbery, and attempted simple robbery were not violent felonies, Johnson argued that the categorical approach would reveal attempted simple robbery was not a violent felony.

Johnson further argued that the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague.

A federal judge in St. Paul shot each challenge down, however, and sentenced Johnson to the mandatory minimum of 180 months in prison.

The 8th Circuit affirmed in July 2013, and the U.S. Supreme Court granted Johnson a writ of certiorari on Monday.

Johnson will proceed in forma pauperis, but the court did not otherwise comment on the case, as is its custom.

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