On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it would be hearing the case of Gregory Welch — a man sentenced to 15 years in prison because of a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement in the Armed Career Criminal Act, part of which was ruled unconstitutional in 2015.
After being found guilty in 2005 of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which would have netted him a sentence of 10 or fewer years, Welch ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison because the judge found that Welch had three prior violent felony convictions and was therefore subject to the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements under the ACCA.
In 2015, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the part of the law defining the prior violent felony convictions as any felony that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” — a provision referred to as the residual clause — was unconstitutionally vague.
Since the June 2015 ruling in Johnson v. United States, however, appeals courts have split over whether the decision should apply retroactively. Under the Supreme Court’s prior cases, if the Johnson ruling announced a “substantive” rule, then it would apply retroactively. The Supreme Court on Friday selected Welch’s case — one of several that the justices considered hearing — to address the issue.
The court now will receive a full briefing on the question and schedule oral arguments for this spring. A decision is expected by late June.
Notably, Welch had acted with no lawyer — pro se — in the courts below on the issue and even in his initial filing asking the Supreme Court to take up his case.
Since that initial filing, however, lawyers with the D.C. office of Jenner & Block — led by Amir Ali — have signed on as Welch’s lawyers.
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