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Baltimore v. United States

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

May 16, 2017

CHRISTOPHER W. BALTIMORE, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Before the Court is the United States' motion to deny and dismiss Petitioner's successive petition to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Doc. 51]. Petitioner submitted the petition on November 3, 2016 [Doc. 48]. In it, he challenges his enhancement under Section 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which held that the residual provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), was unconstitutionally vague [Id. (suggesting that his sentence is no longer valid because the residual provisions in Section 4B1.2 and § 924(c) are equally vague)].[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to one count of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and one count of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) [Docs. 27, 28, 33]. Based on two prior Tennessee convictions- aggravated assault and facilitation of aggravated robbery [Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) ¶¶ 48, 49], the United States Probation Office deemed Petitioner to be a career offender [Id. ¶ 40]. In accordance with that designation, this Court imposed an aggregate 300-month sentence on October 18, 2010 [Doc. 33]. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal his conviction or sentence.

         In 2011, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under § 2255 [Doc. 35]. This Court denied that petition on the merits on July 24, 2015 [Docs. 44, 45]. The United States Supreme Court decided Johnson on June 26, 2015. On November 1, 2016, the Sixth Circuit authorized the instant successive petition for relief based on that decision [Doc. 47].

         On March 6, 2017, the Supreme Court issued Beckles v. United States, which held that the United States Sentencing Guidelines are “not amenable to vagueness challenges.” 137 S.Ct. 886, 894 (2017). Two weeks later, this Court entered an Order (1) noting the holding in Beckles (2) instructing the parties to “file any motion that they want[ed] the Court to consider in conjunction with, or prior to, ruling on [the instant] petition[] on or before April 1, 2017;” and (3) requiring that responsive pleadings be filed on or before April 15, 2017 [Doc. 50]. Shortly thereafter, the United States moved to deny and dismiss the action with prejudice [Doc. 51]. Petitioner responded in opposition to dismissal and asked that this Court hold this petition in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's resolution of a writ for certiorari filed in United States v. Taylor, 814 F.3d 340 (6th Cir. 2016)-a decision that Petitioner admits precludes any relief from his § 924(c) conviction [Docs. 54, 55]. The United States responded in opposition to the requested stay [Doc. 56].

         II. MOTION TO DENY AND DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE

         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 articulates two grounds for relief: the first seeks vacatur of Petitioner's aggregate sentence because Johnson removed facilitation of armed robbery from the definition of crime of violence in Section 4B1.2 and he lacks sufficient predicates for career offender enhancement without that conviction (Ground One); the second requests vacatur of Petitioner's § 924(c) conviction because Johnson removed Hobbs Act robbery from the definition of crime of violence in § 924(c)(3)(B) (Ground Two) [Doc. 48].

         Because the Sixth Circuit only authorized consideration of Ground One [Doc. 47 (denying leave to challenge § 924(c) conviction because Petitioner had not “made a prima facie showing that he may be entitled to relief”)], this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Ground Two. Further, to the extent that Petitioner argues that Johnson invalidated the Guidelines residual clause and that his prior conviction for facilitation of armed robbery cannot be categorized as a crime of violence without it, that argument fails because the Guidelines are “not amenable to vagueness challenges.” Beckles, 137 S.Ct. at 894. Because Johnson did not affect Petitioner's status as a career offender, that decision cannot serve as a basis for granting the requested collateral relief.

         III. MOTION TO HOLD CASE IN ABEYANCE

         This Court is also in possession of Petitioner's request that it defer ruling on his petition until the Supreme Court accepts or denies the pending writ of certiorari in Taylor [Doc. 55]. He acknowledges that the Sixth Circuit held in Taylor that the residual provision in § 924(c)(3)(B) is not unconstitutionally vague, 814 F.3d at 376-79, and admits that decision forecloses Johnson-based relief from his § 924(c) conviction, but still argues that this Court should defer ruling until the Supreme Court decides whether to review the case [Id.]. He notes that other Circuits reached the opposite conclusion about the residual clause in § 924(c) and “the Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in an ancillary case that may also touch on the [§] 924(c) issue”-Lynch v. Dimaya, 803 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2015), cert. granted, No. 15-1498 (U.S. Sept. 29, 2016) [Id.].

         “The question whether to stay a case pending a potentially dispositive decision is an appellate court is a pre-trial matter committed to the sound discretion of the [district court].” United States v. Johnson, ...


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