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U.S. v. GRANT, NO. 13-4302

Decided: June 3, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s inclusion of the Appellant’s two court-martial convictions as violent felonies for purposes of armed career criminal status under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).  Therefore, increasing Appellant’s appropriate sentencing range for being a felon in possession of ammunition.

The Appellant received both violent felony convictions in 1980 while serving with the Army in Korea.  In the first incident, Grant used a razor blade to cut a fellow service member in the face, and received a general court-martial for assault by inflicting grievous bodily harm.  Subsequently, Grant overtook the guards that were transporting him after his assault charge, and received a general court-martial for kidnapping.  Ultimately, Grant was dishonorably discharged, and returned to the U.S. to serve out his sentence for both court-martials.  Later, on August 18, 2012, a fifteen-year-old girl disappeared from Columbia, South Carolina, and the Appellant, Freddie Grant, was the main suspect.  During the investigation, the Richland County Sheriff Department and Elgin Police Department executed a search warrant at Grant’s home where they discovered two boxes of ammunition.  Grant was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and convicted for being a felon in possession of ammunition.

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), an individual who has “three previous conviction by any court referred to in section 922(g)(1) . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another” qualifies under the statute.  18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) (emphasis added).  On appeal, Grant argued that a general court-martial is not “any court” under the ACCA definition.  Specifically, Grant relied upon Small v. United States to support his claim that court-martials substantially differ from civilian courts, and, thus, should not meet the ACCA definition.  544 U.S. 385 (2005).  In Small, the U.S. Supreme Court held that convictions in foreign courts did not meet the statutory definition of “any court” under the ACCA, section 922(g)(1).  Id.

The Fourth Circuit noted some differences between military courts, Article I courts under the U.S. Constitution, and civilian courts, Article III courts.  However, the Court emphasized that both courts are required to find an individual guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Additionally, the Court reviewed fellow U.S. Court of Appeals’ decisions, and found that the Seventh and Ninth Circuit have held that court-martials meet the ACCA’s statutory definition for “any court.”  The Court reasoned that the legislative history and congressional intent surrounding the ACCA support its holding.  Moreover, the Court found that the differences Grant emphasized failed to reach the level of concern the U.S. Supreme Court relied upon in Small.  Therefore, the Court declined to extend that precedent without clear indication from Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Full Opinion

Samantha R. Wilder