Supreme Court Ruling Gives DUI Offender a Break


The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that DUI should not be treated as a violent crime under federal law has benefited a man in Tulsa who was convicted on a firearm offense and had his sentence reduced by almost two-thirds, according to a report by Tulsa World.

George Lester Morris Jr. pleaded guilty in May 2006 to possession of a firearm although he has a felony criminal record. Because of his guilty plea and the fact that Morris' 2000 conviction for a second offense Oklahoma DUI was considered a violent crime, Morris was put in a very bad position for sentencing.

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, people with at least three convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses are sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. Since Morris' 2000 DUI was considered a violent crime, his guilty plea and conviction put him at the mark of three convictions for violent felonies and he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars.

Morris appealed his sentence and his defense lawyers argued that his Oklahoma DUI conviction should not count as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their argument and cited its ruling the previous year in the appeal of a New Mexico man.

On April 16, Morris finally got some good news about his DUI conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 10th Circuit's decision in the case of the New Mexico man. As a result of that reversal, Morris' case and several others were sent back for resentencing.

Morris was then sentenced to five years and three months in prison instead of the 15 years that he had faced when his DUI conviction was counted as a violent felony.

The Supreme Court ruled that DUI is a very different crime than offenses such as arson, extortion and burglary - the crimes that Congress provided as examples of violent conduct in the Armed Career Criminal Act. It its opinion in April, the Supreme Court said that DUI is not purposefully violent and aggressive conduct.

Morris' lawyer, J. Lance Hopkins, was pleased with the decision and said that although DUI is a serious crime, it cannot be equated with violent criminal acts. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Reincke disagrees because when someone makes the decision to drink and drive, there is always the potential that someone will be seriously injured or killed.

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