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Ball v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

March 22, 2017

ANTHONY H. BALL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Petitioner's pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. 34]. He bases the request for relief 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 [Id.]. The United States responded in opposition on August 15, 2016 [Doc. 37]. Petitioner did not reply and the time for doing so has now passed. E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1, 7.2. For the reasons below, Petitioner's § 2255 motion [Doc. 34] will be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) [Doc. 16]. Based on prior Tennessee convictions for aggravated assault, attempted aggravated burglary, simple burglary, and a Florida conviction for aggravated battery, the United States Probation Office deemed Petitioner to be an armed career criminal subject to the ACCA's fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence [Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶¶ 25, 33, 43, 45, 50]. In accordance with that designation, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 216 months imprisonment on February 7, 2011 [Doc. 28]. Petitioner did not appeal his conviction or sentence and, as a result, they became final for purposes of § 2255(f)(1) on February 21, 2011. See Sanchez-Castello v. United States, 358 F.3d 424, 428 (6th Cir. 2004) (explaining that an unappealed judgment becomes final when the fourteen-day period for filing a direct appeal has elapsed).

         More than five years later-on June 20, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant petition for collateral relief based on the Johnson decision [Doc. 34 (challenging ACCA designation)].

         II. 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).

         III. 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) (emphasis added). The provision defines “serious drug offense” as any “offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance . . . for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). The Act goes on to define “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, 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). For purposes of § 924(e)(B)(2)(i), “the phrase ‘physical force' means violent force-that is, force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.” Johnson v. United States, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 1271 (2010). Only the residual clause was held to be unconstitutionally vague by the Supreme Court 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-the use-of-physical-force and enumerated-offense clauses. Id.; United States v. Priddy, 808 F.3d 676, 682-83 (6th Cir. 2015). Nor does Johnson disrupt the use of a prior serious drug offense as an independent form of ACCA predicate conviction. See, e.g., United States v. Smith, No. 10-CR-20058, 2015 WL 5729114, at *9-13 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2015) (noting that Johnson does not affect categorization as an armed career criminal based on prior serious drug offenses).

         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) (denying petition where conviction qualified as a predicate offense 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 v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2285 (2013). 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.

         Review of Petitioner's PSR reveals that at least three of his prior convictions remain violent felonies independent of the now-defunct residual provision. As an initial matter, binding Sixth Circuit authority makes clear that his prior Tennessee conviction for simple burglary remains a violent felony under the ACCA's enumerated-offense clause. See, e.g., Priddy, 808 F.3d at 685 (finding that post-1989 Tennessee Class D burglary is categorically a violent felony under the ACCA's enumerated offense clause).

         Further, at the time Petitioner committed aggravated assault, Tennessee defined the crime as follows:

(a) A person commits aggravated assault who:
(1) Intentionally or knowingly commits an assault as defined in ...

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