WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Wednesday underscored the broad impact of a federal law allowing longer sentences for violent ``career criminals.''
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled against Alphonso James, a Florida man with three prior felony convictions, including one for attempted burglary.
As long as an offense presents a serious potential risk of injury to another person, it satisfies the requirements of the Armed Career Criminal Act, Justice Anthony Alito wrote in the majority opinion. Attempted burglary under Florida law satisfies the requirement, Alito added.
In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the boundaries of the act are ``ill-defined'' and that the court's majority failed to provide guidance that can be applied consistently by the hundreds of district judges that impose sentences every day.
``We have the responsibility to ... prevent arbitrary or discriminatory sentencing,'' wrote Scalia.
The Armed Career Criminal Act makes defendants eligible for longer prison terms if they have three prior criminal convictions for crimes that are either violent felonies or serious drug offenses.
James' lawyer said attempted burglary should not automatically be considered a violent crime.
A federal judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with federal prosecutors. They successfully argued that James' prison term should be increased from no more than six years to a mandatory minimum of 15 years under the act.
The case is James v. U.S., 05-9264.