According to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, a career offender is someone who commits a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense after two prior felony convictions for those crimes. The sentencing guidelines assign all career offenders to Criminal History Category (CHC) VI and to offense levels at or near the statutory maximum penalty of the offense of conviction. There are many nuances and exceptions to this definition such that even defendants with lengthy criminal histories sometimes may not qualify as career offenders under the guidelines.
For example, prior convictions that are too far back in time are not counted for purposes of determining whether or not someone is a career offender. Further, the definition for a crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines is similar to the definition for crime violence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which has been challenged as being unconstitutionally vague. Thus, there may certain crimes that no longer qualify as crimes of violence, or certain crimes where an attorney may assert the argument that the crime does not qualify as a crime of violence, in light of recent Supreme Court decisions. The rules for determining which prior convictions count, however, are complex. It is crucial it to have an experienced attorney review the record of prior convictions to determine whether someone is or is not a career offender.