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West v. United States

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

July 10, 2019

FRANCES M. WEST, Petitioner,



         Federal inmate Frances M. West has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Respondent has filed a response in opposition to the motion, and West has filed a reply thereto. Having considered the pleadings and the record, along with the relevant law, the Court finds that it is unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing[1], and West's § 2255 motion will be denied.


         In 2010, West pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon [Doc. 34 in 1:10-CR-12]. Based on his prior convictions, which included five assaults with intent to commit murder, two assaults with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter, two aggravated assaults, and one first-degree burglary, West was deemed an armed career criminal and sentenced to the statutory mandatory minimum of 180 months' imprisonment [Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) at ¶¶ 18, 24-25, 33-35, 37, 39, 42; Doc. 23 in No. 1:10-CR-12].

         West's initial § 2255 motion was denied in 2014 [Docs. 42 and 43 in No. 1:10-CR-12]. Thereafter, West sought and obtained authorization from the Sixth Circuit to contest his armed career criminal classification in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). See Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2563. The United States was ordered to respond to West's allegations, and it did so by filing its response in opposition to the motion on February 5, 2018 [Doc. 9]. Thereafter, West filed a reply to the United States' response [Doc. 12].


         After a defendant has been convicted and exhausted his appeal rights, a court may presume that “he stands fairly and finally convicted.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). A court may grant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, but the statute “does not encompass all claimed errors in conviction and sentencing.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979). Rather, collateral attack limits a movant's allegations to those of constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude, or those containing factual or legal errors “so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Short v. United States, 471 F.3d 686, 691 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).


         The ACCA requires a 15-year minimum sentence for a felon who unlawfully possesses a firearm after having sustained three prior convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The statute defines a “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-force clause”); (2) “is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves 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).

         In Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down the residual clause of the ACCA as unconstitutionally vague and violative of due process. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2563. However, Johnson did not invalidate “the remainder of the Act's definition of a violent felony.” Id. Therefore, for a § 2255 petitioner to obtain relief under Johnson, he must show that his ACCA-enhanced sentence was necessarily based on a predicate violent felony that only qualified as such under the residual clause. See, e.g., Potter v. United States, 887 F.3d 785, 788 (6th Cir. 6018). Accordingly, post-Johnson, a defendant can properly receive an ACCA-enhanced sentence based either on the statute's use-of-force or enumerated-offense clauses. United States v. Priddy, 808 F.3d 676, 683 (6th Cir. 2015); see also United States v. Taylor, 800 F.3d 701, 719 (6th Cir. 2015) (affirming ACCA sentence where prior convictions qualified under use-of-force and enumerated-offense clauses).

         In evaluating whether a conviction qualifies as a predicate offense under the ACCA's enumerated-offense clause, courts typically apply a “categorical approach, ” which requires the reviewing court to compare the elements of the statute of conviction with the “generic elements” of the offense. Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2248 (2016); Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 257 (2013). If the statute of conviction is broader than that criminalizing the generic offense, then it cannot qualify as a violent felony, regardless of the facts comprising the offense. See, e.g., Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2248-49.

         However, where the statute of conviction is “divisible, ” in that it lists elements in the alternative to define several different variants of the crime, courts may employ the “modified categorical approach” in order to evaluate which of the alternative elements constituted the offense of conviction. See, e.g., Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2249. When considering whether the conviction qualifies as an ACCA predicate under this approach, courts may review a limited set of documents (referred to as Shepard documents) to determine the elements of the crime of conviction and compare that crime to the generic offense. See id.; see also Shepard v. United States, 125 S.Ct. 1254 (2005).

         A. Felonious assault with intent to murder

         West was convicted under Tennessee law on five separate occasions of committing a felonious assault with intent to commit murder, having used a “certain dangerous and deadly weapon” ...

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