The man who prompted the appeal that will be heard next month before the U.S. Supreme Court has a criminal history spanning 36 years. Matthew R. Descamps, 55, is imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa.
His first felony conviction came in 1976 after he robbed a California convenience store at gunpoint, according to court records.
Two years later he was convicted of the burglary that’s referenced in the Supreme Court case.
Descamps later moved to Colville.
In 1990, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer in Stevens County. And then about eight years later a jury convicted Descamps of assaulting Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Jack Rosenthal.
In 2000 Descamps received 22 months in prison for threatening to kill Pend Oreille County District Judge Philip Van de Veer.
But the conviction that brought the sentencing issue now before the Supreme Court resulted from a shooting in March 2005.
In that case, Stevens County deputies responded to a call from a man who claimed Descamps had fired a shot into a car occupied by another man.
When law enforcement arrived, Descamps fled the scene in a car. He later surrendered and admitted to possessing a .32-caliber handgun.
Two days after the arrest, Descamps made a phone call from the Stevens County Jail. He was “overheard threatening to kill several individuals,” wrote Richard Jessen, a special agent with the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
During an interview, Descamps explained that he fired the gun in an attempt to intimidate the victim, who owed him $700 for methamphetamine, according to court records.
The trial before U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle was delayed for more than a year as Descamps sought to retract his statements and attorneys argued over his competency to stand trial.
A jury convicted Descamps on Sept. 13, 2007, exactly 29 years after the burglary in California that would later become the basis of his appeal on the length of his conviction.
In sentencing documents, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Van Marter argued that Descamps was exactly the type of criminal contemplated when the “armed career criminal” enhancement was created.
“The fact that the Defendant has used firearms in crimes of violence in the past and again … should indicate to this Court, the Defendant is incapable of controlling his behavior,” Van Marter wrote. “He is simply a danger to the community.”
But Descamps’ defense attorney at the time, Jeffrey Niesen, argued that Descamps was a “social outcast” who needed treatment for personality disorders.
“He has a big mouth and no ability to keep it shut, especially in circumstances where he is confronting authority,” Niesen wrote in 2007. “It would be easy to simply write Matthew off as a lost cause.”
Instead, Niesen urged Van Sickle to “fashion a sentence which impresses on Matthew the seriousness of his conduct, but at the same time gives him the opportunity to seek help and treatment for his behavioral limitations.”
Following those arguments, Van Sickle imposed the disputed 262-month sentence after finding that Descamps was an “armed career criminal.”