Document Type



United States v. Stewart, 531 F.2d 326 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 96 S.Ct. 2629 (1976). In 1970, under heavy nationwide pressure to take action against the escalating crime problem, Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act. Undoubtedly the most controversial new provision of this Act is Title X of the Dangerous Special Offender Act, which provides increased penalties for habitual or professional criminals convicted of a triggering felony. It had generally been recognized that a federal recidivist statute of this kind was long overdue. According to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the greatest proportion of all serious violence is committed by repeat offenders, accounting not only for a higher rate, but also a greater degree of violence. In drafting the Act, Congress made use of the conclusions of many prestigious legal organizations, whose studies had demonstrated that some form of increased sentencing for dangerous offenders was necessary not only to protect the community, but also, to begin the process of reduction of prison use as to non-dangerous offenders.

In contrast with these approving reports, the proposed Act met with serious opposition in Congress by the American Civil Liberties Union, by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and by a number of concerned congressmen. These groups raised difficult constitutional questions dealing with due process, vagueness, double jeopardy, cruel and unusual punishment, and equal protection, as well as many evidentiary and policy problems. While the bill appears to be a laudable attempt to remove a very dangerous element in our society, a more careful examination reveals potential pitfalls in its definitions and sentencing provisions.

The bill was passed in 1970 over many constitutional objections, but since that time Title X has rarely been invoked by the Justice Department, perhaps because of uneasiness or lack of confidence in its acceptance by the courts. The result has been that the issue of its constitutionality was not resolved in any United States Circuit Court of Appeals until the Act was upheld by the Sixth Circuit in United States v. Stewart. Thus the Stewart case is of significant legal interest, since it marks the government's first definitive court victory at the appeals court level, and may signal more extensive use of the law by the Justice Department.

Publication Date

January 1977

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Law Commons



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