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Court Rules Prior Convictions Count Individually Toward "Three-Time Loser Law" Even If Incidents Were Part of the Same Operation


March 1995

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that prior convictions may be counted separately, even if they are the result of a single investigation, to determine if an offender qualifies for a mandatory life sentence under the "three-time loser law" (U.S. v. Rice, No. 91-5782, 43 F.3d 601 (11th Cir. 1995); 56 CrL 1437).

The defendant James Robert Rice was charged with numerous crimes stemming from his 1990 purchase of seven kilograms of cocaine from a federal informant. The government requested that Rice be considered for a mandatory life sentence, citing three previous convictions: a 1978 Florida felony conviction for marijuana and methaqualone, a 1980 North Carolina felony drug conviction for importation of cocaine, and a federal conviction for interstate transportation, racketeering, and importation of narcotics.

Rice argued that his prior convictions should not be considered separate criminal acts because they were related to the same operation and involved one law enforcement investigation. As such, he argued that he should not be subject to the repeat offender mandatory minimum sentence. The court maintained that if prior offenses are "sufficiently distinct in time" to be considered occurring independently they can be included as separate incindents when sentence enhancement is considered.

Conversely, the court upheld that if prior convictions resulted from a series of criminal acts that form one episode, those acts should be treated as a single conviction and count only once toward the "three-time loser law."