The fight to exonerate Edward Young has reached its next phase.
Young, who was slapped with a 15-year federal prison sentence in 2013 for seven shotgun shells found in his home, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.
While Young has a rap sheet long enough to classify him a career criminal in the eyes of the law, his attorney, Chris Varner of Evans, Harrison, Hackett in Chattanooga, said his client has never been accused of a violent crime or possessing a weapon.
But, due to the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that imposes stiff penalties on certain defendants for possessing firearms or, in this case, shotgun shells, Young is paying the price.
Varner said even the judges who initially sentenced Young and those who upheld his sentence in his 6th Circuit appeal agree that the sentence, though appropriate pursuant to the existing law, was Draconian.
"The basic unfairness of what happened here led us to file writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court," Varner said.
He said the purpose of the Armed Career Criminal Act was to take weapons out of the hands of felons who might be likely to pull the trigger. While Young had the shells, which came into his possession after he helped a widowed neighbor move and sell some of her husband's old things, he had no gun, and no intention to use the shells, Varner said.
Varner doesn't dispute that Young has broken the law on multiple occasions. Young served time in state prison for burglary, but upon his release in 1996, he turned his life around - he got married and fathered four children.
He stayed straight until September 2011, when he burgled tools, tires and weightlifting equipment from some vehicles and a warehouse, once allowing his son to accompany him. Video recordings of the burglaries led police to Young's house, and during their search, they found the shotgun shells.
Absent the stiff penalty from the ACCA, Young would have faced 10-16 months for his crimes.
"Because of the sentencing enhancement, he's now serving 180 months," Varner said. "That's 18 times what it would have been of a low-range sentence, and 11 times the high-range."
Varner said there's no timetable for the Supreme Court to decide whether it will take up the case.
While the Supreme Court's recent activity on other cases involving the ACCA might bode well for Young, the justices only grant 1 to 2 percent of the writs the court receives.
Young has already served 32 months in federal prison in Atlanta, which is twice the highest sentence he would have gotten without the ACCA.
Contact Will Healey at [email protected], (423) 757-6731, or on Twitter at @wfhealey.