LITTLE ROCK -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rallied with law enforcement at the state's capital Wednesday morning to address his concerns about a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that found the wording of the Armed Career Criminal Act was too vague during his first visit of a two-stop tour across the state.
Because the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the wording of the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 was too vague, Sessions said innocent people are increasingly becoming victims to the acts of repeat offenders who otherwise would not have had the chance to continue harming others if they were forced to serve longer prison sentences.
"The Department of Justice is proud to listen to you, we want to be a force multiplier for you. We want to give you the tools you need to be successful and put dangerous criminals behind bars and make the community safer," he said before a crowd of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and other politicians Wednesday morning. "Right now, because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision withholding that the definition of violent crimes and the statute that carries additional penalties is too vague ... has taken the justice and it's impacted our law enforcement abilities."
The session with Sessions began shortly before 11 a.m. at U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Cody Hiland's office in Little Rock.
As he introduced the U.S. attorney general, Hiland said he and others in the audience were thankful of Sessions' support for law enforcement officers across the nation.
"As our nation's chief law enforcement officer, General Sessions understands that we are a nation of laws and not men. He understands that public safety is a government's first responsibility to our people. He understands that peace through strength doesn't just apply to foreign policy, it applies to public safety and that we are to be faithful to our own. To protect an serve our communities, we must be willing to maintain a posture of unflinching strength against those who seek to do us harm," Hiland said moments before Sessions took center stage.
The visit focused heavily on Sessions' concerns for criminal justice and the need for stricter sentencing abilities for "career criminals."
Following the 2015 ruling, crime rates have increased at a "troubling" rate, he said.
"From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime went up by nearly 7 percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder increased by more than 20 percent.
"Here in Arkansas, the change was even more dramatic," he said. "The overall violent crime rate went up by nearly 15 percent. Aggravated assault by nearly 16 percent. Rape went up by nearly 21 percent. And, murder went up by nearly 29 percent."
The Armed Career Criminal Act is a federal law that allows 15-year sentence enhancements for violent, repeat offenders who are later caught committing a crime involving a firearm.
"These are criminals who already committed multiple, serious offenses who are caught with a gun," Sessions said as he pleaded for change. "It's no little matter."
During his speech, Sessions highlighted three Arkansas cases he said never would have happened had the Supreme Court not ruled the ACCA was too vague.
"This court decision has led to the release of a lot of dangerous criminals, including one right here in Little Rock," he said. "Eight months after he was released from prison, under the Johnson case ruling, [this particular offender] was rearrested for aggravated assault and domestic battery. A year after that, he was arrested for kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, battery and terroristic threats. He is accused of raping a 62-year-old woman, an autistic woman. The court ruling has also led to the release of a man who allegedly punched a pregnant woman in a night club in Forrest City. When police intervened, he allegedly assaulted three of them ... [and] a man from Pine Bluff got a 15-year sentence cut in half after this decision."
The morning press conference did not feature a Q&A session. However, several law enforcement officers and area leaders were called into breakout sessions to further address concerns among the communities they serve.
Of those who participated in a follow-up round table discussion with Sessions were 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson and Carol Crews, the district's chief deputy prosecuting attorney.
"The press conference and the meeting that followed were encouraging to local law enforcement and prosecutors. It was good to hear that Attorney General Sessions values local law enforcement and sees that they truly make a difference on a nationwide level," Ferguson told the Log Cabin Democrat following Sessions' stop in Little Rock.
Ferguson said the opportunity to provide local insight into increasing issues was valued among local officials.
"State, county and city officials were able to provide the attorney general with specific comments after the press conference. Violent crime, the opioid epidemic and parole eligibility were all discussed. The meeting was a great opportunity to share our perspective with him," he said. "I think today also highlighted the great relationship that state prosecutors have with U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland. The fact that he did our job for seven years means he knows what the state does well and how we can cooperate effectively with federal prosecutors and law enforcement."
Crews said she was thankful for the opportunity to meet with Sessions following the morning rally to provide local insight to serious matters.
"Today's round table with local law enforcement and prosecutors was a unique and much-appreciated opportunity to thank General Sessions for his support of law enforcement and to discuss issues we are seeing on a local level," she said. "I especially appreciate his commitment to vigorously prosecute violent, repeat offenders and his encouragement of state legislatures to enact laws that give police and prosecutors the ability to lock up violent offenders for a very long time."
Along with his morning stop in Little Rock, the U.S. attorney general also traveled to Garland County to discuss Lake Hamilton School District's armed security program.