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Arnold & Porter Secures Pivotal Supreme Court Victory in Pro Se Petition Case

March 8, 2022

Arnold & Porter helped secure a life-changing victory in the US Supreme Court for our client, Mr. William Dale Wooden, a federal prisoner who was sentenced to 15 years in prison under the Armed Career Criminal Act for illegally possessing a firearm as a felon. Arnold & Porter argued that Mr. Wooden did not qualify as a career offender under the Act. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Mr. Wooden’s favor on March 7, ensuring that he will receive a much lower sentence.

Arnold & Porter stepped in to help Mr. Wooden secure Supreme Court review of his case. Mr. Wooden wrote his Supreme Court petition pro se on a prison typewriter, seeking to challenge his sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act for illegally possessing a firearm as a felon. The Act requires a 15-year mandatory-minimum sentence when the defendant has previously been convicted of three serious offenses that were committed on “occasions different from one another.” Mr. Wooden, who had been convicted in 1997 of robbing ten separate storage units in the same facility one night, argued that his burglaries were committed on the same occasion and, therefore, that the Armed Career Criminal Act enhancement should not apply.

In a very unusual move for a pro se case, the Supreme Court noticed Mr. Wooden’s petition and called for the government to respond. Arnold & Porter offered to represent Mr. Wooden and helped persuade the Court to hear the case on the merits. Arnold & Porter then argued in front of the Supreme Court in October 2021. The Supreme Court agreed that our client’s burglaries were committed on the same occasion, not ten different occasions, and therefore Mr. Wooden was not an armed career criminal and should not have been subject to a mandatory-minimum sentence. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion, and the Court was unanimous in ruling in Mr. Wooden’s favor.

The ruling in Wooden v. U.S. again reaffirms Arnold & Porter’s decades-long commitment to ensuring that criminal defendants have access to adequate representation—including the firm’s pathbreaking work in the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, argued by Arnold & Porter founding partner Abe Fortas, which secured the constitutional right to counsel.

The Arnold & Porter pro bono team was led by Appellate and Supreme Court partner Allon Kedem, who argued the case, and senior associate Andrew Tutt. The team also included partner R. Reeves Anderson, senior counsel Steven L. Mayer, senior associate Stephen K. Wirth, and associates Jayce Born and John (Jay) Swanson.