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Supreme Court reduces Minnesota white supremacist's firearms sentence


On a day that will be better remembered for another ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court also sided with a Minnesota man who challenged the strict criminal sentence he received under a law known as the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

In an 8-1 decision, the justices agreed with lawyers for Samuel Johnson of Austin by ruling a sentencing provision in the ACCA is so broad it violates the Constitutional right to due process under law.

In 2012, Johnson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Reuters explains that under the ACCA a conviction for firearms possession brings a sentence of at least 15 years if the defendant has three previous convictions for crimes that are violent felonies or show "conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote Friday that court interpretations of that phrase have been "anything but evenhanded, predictable, and consistent."

Samuel Johnson's case

As USA Today reports, Johnson had been under FBI scrutiny for having joined and started white supremacist groups.

He'd allegedly told undercover agents of planned attacks on targets including the Mexican consulate in St. Paul.

Following his guilty plea in 2012, Johnson was sentenced under the ACCA because he had two previous convictions for robbery and one for possessing a sawed-off shotgun, USA Today says. His lawyers argued that should not be considered a violent felony.

The Star Tribune reported last year that U.S. Judge Richard Kyle said during Johnson's sentencing hearing that he thought 15 years was too much, but was compelled by the law to hand down that minimum sentence.

Friday's Supreme Court ruling means Johnson will be sentenced again, this time to no more than 10 years.

The high court's ruling could also lead to shorter sentences for other inmates serving time under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

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