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Chrisman v. United States

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

March 23, 2017

HERSHELL CHRISMAN, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HARRY S. MATTICE, JR. 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 [Doc. 67].[1] 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 19, 2016 [Doc. 71]. 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. 67] will be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2015, a jury found Petitioner guilty of possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) [Doc. 45]. Based on prior Tennessee convictions for aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, and manufacturing methamphetamine, 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) ¶¶ 31, 32, 38]. In accordance with that designation, the Court sentenced Petitioner to 235 months' imprisonment on June 22, 2015 [Doc. 64]. Petitioner did not appeal his conviction or sentence and, as a result, the judgment became final for purposes of § 2255(f)(1) on July 6, 2015. See, .e.g., Sanchez-Castellano 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).

         Less than one year later- on June 24, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant petition for relief based on the Johnson decision [Doc. 67 (challenging Petitioner's 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 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 looks “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[s] 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.

         The Court finds that at least three of the prior convictions used to categorize Petitioner as an armed career criminal categorically qualify as predicate offenses independent of the residual clause invalidated by the Johnson decision. As such, no award of collateral relief is warranted.

         As an initial matter, the Johnson decision has no impact on the status of Petitioner's prior Tennessee drug convictions as serious drug offenses. See, e.g., United States v. Jenkins, 613 F. App'x 754, 755 (10th Cir. 2015) (deeming the Johnson decision “irrelevant” where ACCA enhancement stemmed from the defendant's prior drug offenses). Further, binding Sixth Circuit authority dictates that Petitioner's aggravated robbery conviction remains a violent felony under the ACCA's use-of-physical-force clause. See, e.g., United States v. Bailey, No. 14-6524, 2015 WL 4257103, at *4 (6th Cir. July 15, 2015) (“Tennessee convictions for aggravated robbery and robbery are categorically violent felonies under the ACCA's use-of-physical-force clause.”).

         Finally, when Petitioner committed aggravated assault in 2003, ...


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