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Danson v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 7, 2017




         On October 7, 2011, Randolph Kenneth Danson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to participate in a racketeer influenced corrupt organization in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). On December 21, 2011, Mr. Danson was sentenced to 192 months' (16 years) incarceration, which was the number of months agreed to by the parties in his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea. Mr. Danson now moves pro se under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence due to a change in the United States Sentencing Guideline used to calculate his Guidelines sentencing range. Setting aside the question of whether Mr. Danson's sentence was based on the Guidelines and can be altered through a § 2255 motion, the Court finds that there are no relevant changes in the Guidelines and therefore will deny the motion for a reduction in sentence.


         On March 10, 2010 a grand jury returned a six-count indictment against thirteen defendants and charged Mr. Danson in Count One, Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute PCP, Herion, Cocaine, and Cocaine Base, and Count Four, Maintaining Drug-Involved Premises. Indictment [Dkt. 3]. Six months later a grand jury returned a 63-count superseding indictment against the same defendants, which charged Mr. Danson in Counts 1, 2, 26, 27, 31, 43, 48, and 56. Superseding Indictment [Dkt. 88]. On October 7, 2011, Mr. Danson pleaded guilty to Count Two, Conspiracy to Participate in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO), in a wired, Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea with Defendant Timothy Moon. Plea Agreement [Dkt. 290]. In accepting the plea, Mr. Danson agreed to a sentence of 192 months' (16 years) incarceration. Id. ¶ 5.

         At his plea hearing, Mr. Danson agreed to the following facts surrounding his involvement in the RICO conspiracy. See Factual Proffer [Dkt. 291]. Beginning in or about 2006 and continuing until March 11, 2010, Mr. Danson was a member of an enterprise principally located in the District of Columbia whose objective was to “obtain as much money and things of value as possible through the trafficking of controlled substances, including PCP, heroin, cocaine, cocaine base, and marijuana.” Id. ¶¶ 1, 3. In order to maintain a marketplace for the enterprise's drug trafficking, the enterprise also committed “acts of murder, armed assault, robbery and other acts of violence.” Id. ¶ 3. The leader of the enterprise was Mark Pray. Id. ¶ 4.

         In furtherance of the enterprise, Mr. Danson “sold wholesale and retail amounts of PCP and other narcotics” and, beginning in December 2009, he “also began running a ‘stash house.'” Id. ¶ 8(a). Between December 2009 and March 2010 Mr. Danson sold narcotics to customers of the enterprise out of the stash house. See id. ¶¶ 8(e), (f), (h), (i), (k). Mr. Danson acknowledged that “during the course of the conspiracy, he [was] accountable for at least 3 but less than 10 kilograms of a mixture or substance of PCP.” Id. ¶ 10.

         Before sentencing, a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) was prepared by the United States Probation Office of the District of Columbia. In that report the Probation Officer described Mr. Danson's criminal history and calculated the applicable United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG or Guidelines) range, including the offense score and criminal history category. The Probation Officer determined that Mr. Danson qualified for a three-level enhancement to the base offense level because he met the criteria for “career offender” under USSG § 4B1.1, which resulted in a final offense score of 34. PSR [Dkt. 307] at 15-16.[1] As a result of the “career offender” designation, Mr. Danson was also automatically moved to criminal history category VI. Id. at 20. Therefore, Mr. Danson's applicable Guidelines range was 262 to 327 months. Id. at 28. On December 21, 2011, the Court accepted Mr. Danson's Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea and sentenced him to 192 months' incarceration.

         In 2015 and 2016, the United States Supreme Court considered two challenges to career offender designations in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) and Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017).[2] In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) violates the Due Process Clause of the Constitution because it is unconstitutionally vague. See 135 S.Ct. at 2557. The ACCA provides for an increased mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant “has three or more earlier convictions for a ‘serious drug offense' or a ‘violent felony.'” Id. at 2555 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1)). The residual clause is part of the definition of “violent felony” and states that a violent felony includes “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . that . . . otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). The Supreme Court found the residual clause was unconstitutionally vague because it leaves “grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime” and “how much risk it takes for a crime to qualify as a violent felony.” Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2557-58.

         In Beckles, the Supreme Court addressed another residual clause, this time located in the Guidelines' definition of a “crime of violence.” 137 S.Ct. at 890. Although the residual clause in the Guidelines was substantially similar to the clause in the ACCA, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause in USSG § 4B1.2(a)(2) was not void for vagueness because “the advisory Guidelines are not subject to vagueness challenges under the Due Process Clause.” Id. The Guidelines were distinguishable from the ACCA because they “do not fix the permissible range of sentences, ” but instead “merely guide the exercise of a court's discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence within the statutory range.” Id. at 892.

         On June 13, 2016, Mr. Danson filed his initial pro se motion for relief under § 2255 based on Johnson. June 13, 2016 Mot. [Dkt. 552]. Per the standing order issued by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the Office of the Federal Public Defender filed an abridged § 2255 motion on the basis of Johnson on Mr. Danson's behalf, indicating that an updated motion would be filed after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Beckles. See June 20, 2016 Mot. [Dkt. 554]. On April 10, 2017, following the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles, the Federal Public Defender moved to withdraw as counsel for Mr. Danson and the Court granted the motion. See Motion to Withdraw [Dkt. 568]; April 10, 2017 Minute Order. Proceeding pro se, Mr. Danson filed a supplement to the original § 2255 motion on May 26, 2017. Supp. Mot. [Dkt. 571]. The United States opposed, Opp'n [Dkt. 575], and Mr. Danson replied. Reply [Dkt. 578].[3] The motion is ripe for review.


         28 U.S.C. § 2255 permits a defendant to move for the sentencing court to vacate, set aside, or correct its sentence on the grounds that the “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating entitlement to relief under § 2255. See United States v. Bell, 65 F.Supp.3d 229, 231 (D.D.C. 2014). Section 2255 motions must be filed no later than a year after (1) “the judgment of conviction becomes final, ” (2) any impediment preventing the filing of the motion is removed, (3) the Supreme Court newly recognizes a right to review, or (4) the facts supporting the claim “could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f).

         Habeas petitioners are not entitled to discovery as a matter of course, see Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899, 904 (1997), but a court may authorize discovery if good cause exists, or “where specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that the petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that he is entitled to relief.” Id. at 908-09.

         Noncapital defendants do not have a constitutional or statutory right to counsel during habeas corpus proceedings. See 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2) (creating a statutory right to counsel for capital defendants in habeas proceedings). However, a court may provide counsel to a financially eligible person who is seeking habeas relief if “the ...

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