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Packett v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

January 9, 2017

WILLIAM PACKETT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Docs. 20]. On February 11, 2016, this Court appointed Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee (FDSET) to investigate Petitioner's case to determine whether or not he was entitled to collateral relief. E.D. Tenn. S.O. 16-02 (Feb. 11, 2016). FDSET filed a notice of conflict of interest and this Court appointed substitute CJA counsel [Docs. 21, 22]. Consistent with that appointment, counsel filed a supplement requesting collateral relief based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), in which the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), was unconstitutionally vague [Doc. 23]. The United States responded in opposition on August 11, 2016 [Doc. 26]. Petitioner did not reply and the time for doing so has now has lapsed. E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1, 7.2. For the reasons below, Petitioner's § 2255 motion will be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2011, law enforcement officers caught Petitioner selling stolen firearms out of a stolen van [Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶¶ 7-8]. He subsequently pled guilty to possessing firearms as a felon, in violation of 18 U.SC. § 922(g)(1) [Id. ¶¶ 1-2]. Based on prior Tennessee convictions for burglary [Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶ 33], robbery [Id. ¶ 35], and aggravated assault [Id. ¶ 52], the United States Probation Office deemed Petitioner to be an armed career criminal subject to the ACCA's enhanced fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence. This Court agreed and sentenced Petitioner to 192 months' incarceration followed by five years' supervised release on October 17, 2012 [Doc. 17]. No direct appeal was taken.

         Slightly less than two years later-on August 25, 2014, Petitioner filed a pro se request for collateral relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel [Doc. 20 (suggesting trial counsel deviated from professional norms when he failed to object to Petitioner's categorization as an armed career criminal based on the Supreme Court's decision in Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013))]. On June 24, 2016, substitute CJA counsel supplemented Petitioner's pro se filing with a request for vacatur of sentence in light of the Johnson decision [Doc. 23].

         II. TIMELINESS OF PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

         Section 2255(f) places a one-year statute of limitations on all petitions for collateral relief under § 2255 running from either: (1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final; (2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action; (3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or (4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Supreme Court precedent makes clear that Johnson's invalidation of the ACCA residual clause amounted to a new rule made retroactively applicable on collateral review. See Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1265 (U.S. 2016) (“Johnson is . . . a substantive decision and so has retroactive effect . . . in cases on collateral review.”); In re Windy Watkins, 810 F.3d 375, 380-81 (6th Cir. 2015) (finding Johnson constitutes a new substantive rule of constitutional law made retroactively applicable on collateral review and thus triggers § 2255(h)(2)'s requirement for certification of a second or successive petition). Counsel submitted the supplement within subsection (f)(3)'s window.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The relief authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 2255 “does not encompass all claimed errors in conviction and sentencing.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). Rather, a petitioner must demonstrate “(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law . . . so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003)). He “must clear a significantly higher hurdle than would exist on direct appeal” and establish a “fundamental defect in the proceedings which necessarily results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an egregious error violative of due process.” Fair v. United States, 157 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1998).

         Petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the criminal proceedings, Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 353 (1994); Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993), and he likewise bears the burden of articulating sufficient facts to state a viable claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. A § 2255 motion may be dismissed if it only makes vague conclusory statements without substantiating allegations of specific facts and thereby fails to state a claim cognizable under § 2255. Green v. Wingo, 454 F.2d 52, 53 (6th Cir. 1972).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         The ACCA mandates a fifteen-year sentence for any felon who unlawfully possesses a firearm after having sustained three prior convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The statute defines “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that (1) “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another” (the “use-of-physical-force clause”); (2) “is burglary, arson, or extortion, [or] involves the use of explosives” (the “enumerated-offense clause”); or (3) “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” (the “residual clause”). 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). It was this third clause- the residual clause-that the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in Johnson. 135 S.Ct. at 2563. The Court went on to make clear, however, that its decision did “not call into question . . . the remainder of the [ACCA's] definition of violent felony, ” i.e., the use-of-physical-force and enumerated-offense clauses. Id. Nor did Johnson disturb the use of prior serious drug offenses as predicates.

         The validity of Petitioner's sentence thus depends on whether three or more of his prior convictions qualify as “serious drug offenses” under § 924(e)(2)(A) or, in the alternative, “violent felonies” under one of the unaffected provisions of § 924(e)(2)(B). See, e.g., United States v. Ozier, 796 F.3d 597, 604 (6th Cir. 2015) (explaining courts need not decide what import, if any, Johnson has on the Sentencing Guidelines' residual clause where the petitioner's prior convictions qualify as predicate offenses independent of the residual clause), overruled on other grounds by Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2251 n. 1 (2016). To determine whether a particular offense qualifies as a violent felony under any of the prongs of the above definition, courts must first identify the precise crime of conviction. Descamps, 133 S.Ct. at 2285. They do so by employing a “categorical approach, ” under which they look “only to the statutory definitions-elements-of a defendant's prior offense, and not to the particular facts underlying [each individual] conviction[].” Id. at 2283. When the conviction involves violation of a “divisible” statute-one which comprises multiple, alternative versions of the crime-courts resort to the “modified categorical approach” under which they “consult a limited class of documents, such as indictments and jury instructions, to determine which alternative formed the basis of the defendant's prior conviction.” Id. at 2281.

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that two of the three convictions designated as predicate offenses supporting ACCA enhancement were Tennessee convictions for burglary and robbery. Binding Sixth Circuit precedent makes clear that both offenses remain predicates after the Johnson decision; burglary under the enumerated-offense clause, see United States v. Priddy, 808 F.3d 676, 685 (6th Cir. 2015) (finding that post-1989 Tennessee Class D burglary is categorically a violent felony under the ACCA's enumerated offense clause), [1] and robbery under the use-of-physical-force clause, see United States v. Mitchell, 743 F.3d 1054, 1058-60 (6th Cir. 2014) ...


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