April 20, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Use of Juvenile Adjudication for Sentencing Under ACCA Did Not Violate Eighth Amendment

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Orona on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Raul Roger Orona, Jr., was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Based on his status as an armed career offender, he was sentenced to 198 months’ imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). At sentencing, the district court concluded that his sentence under ACCA was constitutional, but stated it was persuaded that “defendant has somewhat less culpability” given that one of his predicate offenses occurred when he was a juvenile. Orona appealed.

On appeal, Orona argued that the use of his juvenile adjudication as a predicate offense for ACCA purposes violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment bars “the imposition of inherently barbaric punishments under all circumstances” and punishments that are “disproportionate to the crime” committed. Orona did not establish that a national consensus existed against the use of juvenile adjudications to enhance a subsequent adult sentence. The court found that states vary tremendously in the degree to which they permit a prior juvenile adjudication to impact sentencing following a subsequent adult conviction. In the cases cited by Orona, the sentences were imposed for crimes committed while the defendants were young. In this case, an adult defendant faced an enhanced sentence for a crime he committed as an adult.

The court also rejected Orona’s claim that the residual clause of ACCA is unconstitutionally vague. The void-for-vagueness doctrine provides that a penal statute must define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. ACCA defines “violent felony” as including any crime that is “burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” Because of the United States Supreme Court’s consistent rejection of Orona’s vagueness argument and the unanimous conclusion of its sibling circuits, the Tenth Circuit held that the residual clause was not impermissibly vague.

AFFIRMED.

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