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Hughes v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

August 25, 2017

JAMES RAY HUGHES, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CURTIS L. COLLIER 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. 31]. 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 December 2, 2016 [Doc. 33] and Petitioner filed a pro se reply on December 12, 2016 [Doc. 34]. Also before the Court is Petitioner's pro se request for default judgment [Doc. 36]. For the reasons below, Petitioner's request for default judgment will be DENIED and his § 2255 motion will be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September of 2011, Petitioner sold three stolen firearms to his uncle [Doc. 19]. He later pleaded guilty to possessing those firearms as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) [Id.]. Based on one prior Tennessee conviction for aggravated burglary and four prior Tennessee convictions for Class D simple burglary, 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) ¶¶ 27, 35-37]. In accordance with that designation, this Court sentenced Petitioner to 180 months' imprisonment on August 16, 2012 [Doc. 24].

         A little over one year later-on November 25, 2013-Petitioner filed a petition to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence [Doc. 27]. This Court denied and dismissed that original petition in a Memorandum Opinion and Judgment Order entered on January 7, 2014 [Docs. 28, 29]. Two years later-on November 3, 2016-Petitioner filed the instant successive petition for collateral relief based on the Johnson decision with the Sixth Circuit's permission [Docs. 30, 31].

         II. REQUEST FOR DEFAULT JUDGMNET

         In addition to the § 2255 petition, the Court is in possession of Petitioner's pro se request for default judgment [Doc. 36]. In the motion, he requests that the court award him relief based on the United States' failure to comply with this Court's Order to respond entered on December 19, 2016 [Id.]. An award of default judgment is improper for two reasons: the Court entered the Order to which Petitioner refers in error and voided the same by way of text entry on CM/ECF; and the United States responded in opposition to collateral relief on December 2, 2016 [Doc. 33].

         III. PETITION FOR COLLATERAL RELIEF

         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 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 an offense qualifies under one of the above provisions, courts must first identify the precise crime of conviction by employing a “categorical approach, ” looking “only to the ...


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