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What is Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) in Massachusetts?

armed career criminal act massachusetts

In 1998, the Massachusetts State Legislature enacted the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Under this statute, a person who possesses a firearm who has previously been convicted of a “violent crime” or “a serious drug offense” will receive additional prison time.

The firearm offenses that trigger the ACCA apply to possession of firearm without a license, whether inside or outside the home, possession of a machine gun, and even possession of ammunition.  If you’re charged with possessing a firearm after having a serious criminal record, you could be facing additional consequences under the ACCA.

The ACCA is a standalone crime that carries severe penalties, but I am here to help fight for you.  If you think this statute may apply to you in your case, it is very important that you hire a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney.

What is Considered a “Violent Crime” and “Serious Drug Offense” in the ACCA?

What is considered a “violent crime” according to the Armed Career Criminal Act casts a very wide net, and is defined as any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term of over 1 year that “(i) has as an element the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force or a deadly weapon against the person of another; (ii) is burglary, extortion, arson or kidnapping; (iii) involves the use of explosives; or (iv) otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury to another.”

The first provision, (i), is known as the “force clause,” and has been limited by case law to only include cases where there is an intentional use of force.  You should carefully review your prior offenses with your Massachusetts criminal defense attorney before accepting the consequences of the armed career criminal act.

The fourth provision, (iv), is known as the “residual clause” and was held to be unconstitutionally vague.  Therefore, it does not apply.

A “serious drug offense” is defined as the manufacture, distribution or possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance and whose potential sentence is at least 10 years.

What are the Three Levels of Additional Prison Time, Under the ACC?

The Armed Career Criminal Act in Massachusetts carries the following penalties:

Level 1 (one prior violent/drug offense): Minimum prison sentence of 3 years, maximum of 15 years.

Level 2 (two prior violent offenses/drug offenses): Minimum prison sentence of 10 years, maximum of 15 years.

Level 3 (three or more prior violent/drug offenses): Minimum of 15 years, maximum of  20 years.

Keep in mind, the above sentencing periods could be added to your prison sentence you’re facing on other charges.  Also, the prison time is a mandatory minimum, meaning you cannot be placed on probation or receive good time.  It is a day-for-day sentence.

The above levels only apply to separate incidents.  This means if your prior convictions resulted from one incident, it only counts as one offense for the calculation.

Juvenile convictions also count for the ACCA in Massachusetts.


What are Some Possible Defenses to the Armed Career Criminal Act in Massachusetts?

  • You did not possess a firearm
    • A defense to the underlying case of possessing a firearm can mean that the ACCA does not apply to you.
  • Your prior conviction(s) do not count under the statute
    • In other words, your prior convictions could not count under the ACCA as a violent/serious drug offense
  • Vacate your prior convictions to get them removed from your record
    • Vacating your prior convictions would prevent the Commonwealth from using them against you


If you are charged with a gun crime, having prior convictions can significantly complicate your case.  Even worse, it could result in more time in prison. If you have been charged with a firearms offense and have a criminal record, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help argue your case. I have taken on hundreds of criminal defense cases throughout my career.  I commit to fighting for all of my clients. Call or text me today at (617) 295-7500, and let’s get started on your defense!



Although I am an attorney, I am not your attorney.  Please do not rely on anything on this page as legal advice because any specific advice would depend on your situation.  Any results posted on this page are not guarantees of outcomes in your case.

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