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Cantrell v. United States

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

April 18, 2017




         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. 30]. Petitioner bases his 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. 34]; Petitioner replied in turn on October 24, 2016 [Doc. 37]. For the reasons that follow, Petitioner's § 2255 petition will be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In October of 2006, Petitioner stole a rifle from his parents' house and sold it to another individual in exchange for drugs [Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶¶ 9-10]. He subsequently pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) [Id. ¶¶ 1-2]. Based on seven prior North Carolina breaking and entering convictions [Id. ¶¶ 32, 44, 48], seven prior Tennessee aggravated burglary convictions [Id. ¶¶ 41, 43, 45-46], and one prior Tennessee aggravated robbery conviction [Id. ¶ 47], the United States Probation Office deemed Petitioner to be an armed career criminal subject to the ACCA's fifteen year mandatory minimum. In accordance with that designation, this Court sentenced Petitioner to 210 months' imprisonment on August 6, 2007 [Doc. 23]. Petitioner did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

         Nine years later, on June 24, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant petition based on Johnson [Doc. 30 (challenging ACCA designation)].


         A. 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).

         B. Analysis

         The petition contains a single ground for collateral relief: the Johnson decision removed North Carolina breaking and entering and Tennessee aggravated burglary from § 924(e)'s definition of “violent felony” and that, without those convictions, Petitioner no longer has sufficient predicates for enhancement [Docs. 30, 37].

         1. Propriety of Armed Career Criminal Designation

         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 “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). Only the third portion of the above definition-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..

         Seven of the convictions used to designate Petitioner an armed career criminal were for North Carolina breaking and entering. Thus, the validity of his sentence depends on whether North Carolina breaking and entering remains a “violent felony” 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 ...

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