Posted October 25, 2021 by Maddison P. Reid
"One night of peer pressure or immaturity could lead a child to be identified as a career criminal and subject to the harsh sentencing minimum of the ACCA if the government’s broad interpretation of “occasion” is adopted."
Wooden v. United States: What it Means for Children Offenders
By: Maddison P. Reid
October 25, 2021
The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the case of Wooden v. United States on October 4. The case presents the issue of “whether offenses that were committed as part of a single criminal spree, but sequentially in time, were ‘committed on occasions different from one another’ for purposes of a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act,” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). If a defendant possesses a firearm after having committed three or more offenses, the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) requires that a minimum sentence of 15 years be imposed.
In 1989, William Dale Wooden was convicted of aggravated assault; in 1997, William pleaded guilty to “‘entering ten different mini warehouses” which led to the conviction of ten acts of burglary, and in 2005 was convicted of another burglary. Years later, one November afternoon, an officer had set out in pursuit of a fugitive wanted for theft. Having previously seen the fugitive’s vehicle parked outside Wooden’s home, the officer approached Wooden’s home. The officer, not in uniform at the time, knocked on Wooden’s door, and Wooden answered. The officer asked to speak to Wooden’s wife. Wooden let the officer step in out of the cold while Wooden went to get his wife to speak with the officer. On his way to retrieve his wife, the officer witnessed Wooden grab a rifle from the hallway. The officer knew of Wooden’s status as a felon and knew he could not have a firearm in his possession, so he handcuffed and searched Wooden with the help of two fellow officers. In the course of the search, another rifle was discovered to be holstered on Wooden.
Wooden was charged and convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. When it came to Wooden’s sentencing, the district court held that Wooden’s prior convictions classified him as an armed career criminal under the ACCA, which means that a mandatory 15-year sentence was imposed. Wooden appealed, and the sixth circuit court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court is now hearing the case.
The petitioner argues that the ten burglaries from 1997 were all part of the same one occasion, not “committed on occasions different from one another,” and therefore qualify only as one ACCA prior offense. The government argues that when one occasion ends, the next one starts, so the difference in time of the occasions makes them separate. The ten burglaries are separate occasions because they were in different warehouses, and one clearly ended before the other one began. This would mean that there are ten qualifying ACCA prior offenses, even though they happened during one criminal spree on one night.
Although Wooden is not a minor, nor was he during his prior convictions, the Court should consider the implications of their holding in this case for children. Children in the United States are allowed to be tried as adults. It is estimated that “76,000 children are prosecuted, sentenced or incarcerated as adults annually.” The ACCA has been applied to the sentencing of minors and “has, in fact, been applied in cases where all of the predicate offenses were committed by a juvenile offender.” The Court should consider the implications of their decisions on children offenders. A brief filed by the Human Rights for Kids, in support of the petitioner in Wooden v. United States, argues that the broad interpretation of the ACCA would “result in even more children entering adulthood permanently branded as career criminals, solely as a result of conduct precipitated by their still developing brains.” Currently, the ACCA does not allow sentencers to consider the totality of the circumstances, and regarding youth, the infirmities of the offender, in the application of the mandatory 15-year sentence minimum. One night of peer pressure or immaturity could lead a child to be identified as a career criminal and subject to the harsh sentencing minimum of the ACCA if the government’s broad interpretation of “occasion” is adopted.
 Wooden v. United States, SCOTUSblog.
 United States v. Wooden, 945 F.3d 498, 500-01 (6th Cir. 2019).
 Id. at 500.
 United States v. Wooden, 945 F.3d 498, 500 (6th Cir. 2019).
 Id. at 501
 United States v. Wooden, 945 F.3d 498, 506 (6th Cir. 2019).
 Id. at 501.
 Reply Brief for the Petitioner at 3, Wooden v. United States, No. 20-5279 (U.S. argued Oct. 4, 2021).
 Brief for the United States at 12, Wooden v. United States, No. 20-5279 (U.S. argued Oct. 4, 2021).
 Children’s Defense Fund, The State of America’s Children 28 (2020).
 Brief of Human Rights for Kids as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner at 6, Wooden v. United States, No. 20-5279 (U.S. argued Oct. 4, 2021).
 Id. at 3.
 Id. at 6.
 Id. at 7.