Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Appeals Court Determines that Pen is Not a Deadly Weapon

“Deadly” and “Dangerous” not Synonymous for the Purposes of the ACCA

One of the most important functions of a criminal defense attorney is to reduce the sentence that his or her client is facing as much as possible, preferably down to none. When considering sentencing, a significant issue that often arises is statutory enhancement based on prior convictions. Earlier this month, a Massachusetts Appeals Court decided a Commonwealth v. Rezendes, in which it considered the definition of the term “deadly weapon” as it is used in the Massachusetts Armed Criminal Career Act (ACCA). The ACCA subjects individuals who are convicted of certain offenses to enhanced penalties based on various levels. The enhanced penalties are as follows:

  • Level 1 – An enhancement of not less than 3 years but not more than 15 years

  • Level 2 – An enhancement of not less than 10 years but not more than 15 years

  • Level 3 – An enhancement of not less than 15 years but not more than 20 years

For an offense to be qualifying under the ACCA, It must be a crime of violence punishable by more than one year in prison or, if committed by a juvenile, involve the use or possession of a deadly weapon and be punishable by more than one year if it had been committed by an adult, or involve:

  • The use of force, attempted use of force, or threat of the use of force or a deadly weapon against another person;

  • Burglary, extortion, arson, or kidnapping;

  • The use of explosives;

  • Conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury to another.

At issue on appeal in Rezendes was whether a juvenile offense involving an assault with a pen could be considered an offense involving a deadly weapon. The Commonwealth argues that deadly and dangerous should be given the same meaning, but the court disagreed. Using long-accepted rules of statutory construction, the court determined that, when given their plain meaning, the word “deadly” had a narrower meaning than the word “dangerous.” Furthermore, under a recent United States Supreme Court decision interpreting the federal ACCA, allowing a court to inquire into the manner in which a prior offense was committed in order to determine whether a weapon was being used in a way as to render it “deadly” would invalidate the law on constitutional grounds.

For these reasons, the court invalidated the defendant’s sentencing enhancement and explicitly held that a pen is not a deadly weapon for the purposes of the Massachusetts ACCA. Rezendes will be resentenced as an armed career criminal with two predicate violent crimes rather than three, likely resulting in a significant reduction in his sentence.

Contact a Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Today to Schedule a Free Consultation

Anyone facing a criminal case in Massachusetts should contact an attorney as soon as possible. As this case illustrates, prior convictions can have a significant impact on any later criminal matter that may arise at a later time. To schedule a free case evaluation with Boston criminal defense attorney Edward R. Molari, call our office today at 617-942-1532.