Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. West

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 13, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MATTHEW WEST, Defendant/Petitioner.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkts. # 57, 60]

          RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Matthew West ("defendant" or "West") moves to vacate and correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Suppl. Mot. to Vacate J. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("Pet.'s Suppl. Mot.") [Dkt. # 60]; Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence ("Pet.'s Mot.") [Dkt. # 57]. Following his conviction for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, West was sentenced as an armed career criminal pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). In his § 2255 pleadings, West argues that his sentence is invalid in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which struck down as unconstitutionally vague a provision of ACCA known as the "residual clause."

         With the residual clause invalidated, West contends that he no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal under ACCA. Specifically, West asserts that his prior felony convictions for New Jersey second-degree aggravated assault, third-degree aggravated assault, and second-degree robbery do not constitute "violent felon[ies]" under ACCA's remaining applicable provision, known as the "elements clause." Pet.'s Suppl. Mot. 2; see 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). Thai is so, according to West, because: 1) the New Jersey assault statute requires only that a defendant act recklessly; and 2) the relevant provision of the New Jersey robbery statute does not require the use of violent physical force. See Pet.'s Suppl. Mot. 16-20. West therefore asks this Court to vacate and correct his sentence.

         The Government counters that West's motion should be dismissed on the procedural grounds that it does not satisfy the requirements for second or successive petitions, is time-barred, and is procedurally defaulted. See U.S.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. & Suppl. Mot. Vacate J. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ("U.S.'s Opp'n") 11-19 [Dkt. # 64]. On the merits, the Government argues that West's prior convictions for assault and robbery qualify as violent felonies under ACCA's elements clause and that West's sentence should therefore stand. Id. at 19-32. Upon consideration of the pleadings and the relevant law, and for the reasons discussed below, 1 agree with the Government that West's motion to vacate and correct his sentence is procedurally barred and, in any event, fails on the merits.

         BACKGROUND

         Federal law prohibits convicted felons, such as West, from possessing firearms, See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). On October 1, 2004, a jury convicted West of violating that prohibition. See 10/1/2004 Minute Entry. Generally, prior felons found guilty of unlawfully possessing a handgun in violation of § 922(g)(1) face up to 10 years' imprisonment. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). That sentencing calculus changes, however, if the individual qualifies for a sentencing enhancement under ACCA, As relevant here, ACCA provides that a defendant convicted of violating § 922(g)(1) is subject to a mandatory minimum prison term of 15 years if the defendant has three prior convictions for a "violent felony." Id. § 924(e)(1). ACCA 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"; (2) "is burglary, arson, or extortion, [or] involves use of explosives"; or (3) "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Id. § 924(e)(2)(B). Those provisions, respectively, have come to be known as ACCA's "elements clause," "enumerated clause," and "residual clause." See United Slates v. Booker, 240 F.Supp.3d 164, 167 (D.D.C. 2017).

         At the time of his § 922(g)(1) conviction in this Court, West's prior felony record included New Jersey state convictions for second-degree aggravated assault, third-degree aggravated assault, and second-degree robbery. Pet.'s Suppl. Mot. 2; see 2/8/2005 Revised Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") 6-8. Based on that record, both the Government and West agreed with the Probation Office's conclusion that West was subject to a mandatory minimum of 15 years' imprisonment under ACCA. See PSR ¶ 15 ("[T]he defendant has at least 3 prior convictions for 'violent felonies' as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)."); see Id. ¶ 67 & p. 16. I accepted that assessment and, on March 24, 2005, sentenced West to a prison term of 216 months. See Judgment 1-2 [Dkt. # 29], Over a decade later, during which West tried but failed to set aside his conviction and sentence both on direct appeal and through multiple collateral challenges, [1] the Supreme Court issued its 2015 decision in Johnson v. United States ("Johnson 2015"). 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). In that decision, for reasons this Court need not detail, the Supreme Court struck down ACCA's "residual clause" as unconstitutionally vague. See Id. at 2563. The next year, in Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), the Supreme Court held that Johnson 2015 announced a new, substantive constitutional rule and, as such, applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. See Id. at 1265.

         Shortly after the decision in Welch, the Chief Judge of our Court issued a Standing-Order containing procedures to be followed by defendants asserting post-Johnson 2015 challenges to their sentences. See generally 6/2/2016 Standing Order.[2] The Standing Order appointed the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia to represent eligible defendants who may qualify for relief from their sentences under Johnson 2015 and Welch. Id. at 1. Pursuant to the Standing Order's instructions, West, through counsel, filed an abridged motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate and correct his sentence in light of Johnson 2015. See generally Pet.'s Mot. After receiving permission to file a second or successive § 2255 motion from D.C. Circuit, see In re Matthew West, No. 16-3049 (D.C. Cir. July 1, 2016) ("Circuit Order") [Dkt. # 58], West filed the supplemental § 2255 motion currently pending before the Court, see Pet.'s Suppl. Mot.

         ANALYSIS

         28 U.S.C. § 2255 permits a federal prisoner such as West to file a motion to "vacate, set aside or correct" a sentence that "was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States" or "was in excess of the maximum authorized by law." Id. § 2255(a). In his supplemental motion, West argues that he is entitled to relief under the terms of § 2255 because he no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal under ACCA-and thus cannot lawfully be subjected to ACCA's 15-year mandatory minimum-following Johnson 2015's invalidation of the residual clause. See Pet.'s Suppl. Mot. 2. That is so, West asserts, because his prior felony convictions for New Jersey second-degree aggravated assault, third-degree aggravated assault, and second-degree robbery do not qualify as violent felonies under the remaining applicable ACCA provision known as the elements clause. See Id. at 13-21. West therefore asks this Court to grant his § 2255 motion, vacate his original mandatory-minimum sentence, and either resentence or discharge him. Id. at 22-23.

         The Government opposes West's motion on both procedural and substantive grounds. To start, the Government argues that West's motion does not satisfy the statutory requirements for a second or successive § 2255 motion-specifically, the requirement that his claim ''relies on a new rule of constitutional law." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(A); see U.S.'s Opp'n 11-15. In the alternative, the Government argues that West's motion is untimely under § 2255(f)'s one-year statute of limitations and is procedurally defaulted due to West's failure to raise his ACCA claims at trial or on direct appeal. See U.S.'s Opp'n 15-19. On the merits, the Government asserts that Johnson 2015 does not entitle West to relief because West's prior convictions for New Jersey aggravated assault and robbery qualify as violent felonies-and thus expose him to ACCA's 15-year mandatory minimum sentence-under ACCA's still-valid elements clause. See Id. at 19-32. Having considered those arguments, I agree with the Government that West's § 2255 petition should be DENIED. A discussion of the various procedural and substantive issues presented by West's motion will quite clearly demonstrate why.

         A. Procedural Requirements

         Federal law erects several procedural hurdles that federal habeas petitioners must clear before their claims may be considered on the merits. The Government argues that West's motion fails to clear two such procedural hurdles.[3]

         First, the Government argues that West's motion fails to satisfy the threshold standard for a second or successive motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. That standard, in relevant part, authorizes a district court to entertain a second or successive § 2255 motion only when the applicant shows that the claim relies on "a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable." Id. § 2255(h)(2); see also Id. § 2244(b)(2)(A). The Government contends that West has failed to carry his threshold burden to show that his motion in fact "relies" upon Johnson 2015. Id. § 2255(h)(2). That conclusion follows, the Government asserts, because West has not demonstrated that his mandatory minimum sentence was indeed rendered pursuant to ACCA's now-invalid residual clause, as opposed to the constitutionally permissible elements clause.

         Second, the Government argues that West's motion runs afoul of the one-year statute of limitations period applicable to § 2255 motions. See Id. §2255(1). When a habeas petitioner asserts a challenge based upon a right "newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review," the one-year limitations period begins running on "the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court." Id. § 2255(f)(3). The Government concedes that Johnson 2015 triggered a new one-year period for the filing of § 2255 motions, see U.S.'s Opp'n 16; West's initial post-Johnson 2015 petition, moreover, was filed within that one-year period. See generally Pet.'s Mot. Notwithstanding those considerations. the Government maintains that West's claim is untimely because, without demonstrating that he was sentenced pursuant to the residual clause (as opposed to the elements clause), West cannot show that his claim is "in fact predicated on" Johnson. 2015's invalidation of the residual clause. U.S.'s Opp'n 17.[4]

         As the above discussion indicates, the Government's procedural arguments are largely premised on West's alleged failure to demonstrate that he was sentenced pursuant to the now-defunct residual clause (as opposed to the elements clause). Whether and to what extent a defendant must make that showing to overcome procedural objections under § 2244 and § 2255 is a question that has divided courts fielding the influx of post-Johnson 2015 habeas petitions.

         On one side of the issue, several courts-including some of my colleagues-have held that, to overcome the various procedural hurdles applicable to collateral habeas challenges, a post-Johnson 2015 habeas petitioner need only show that his sentence "may have been predicated on application of the now-void residual clause." United States v. Winston, 850 F.3d 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2017) (emphasis added); see also, e.g., United States v. Geozos, 870 F.3d 890, 896 (9th Cir. 2017); Booker, 240 F. Supp; 3d at 169: United States v. Wilson, 9 F.Supp.3d 305');">249 F.Supp.3d 305, 311-13 (D.D.C. 2017); United States v. Butler, 253 F.Supp.3d 133, 140-41 (D.D.C. 2017). Under that framework, for which West advocates, a sentencing court's "silence regarding the basis of the defendant's sentence" is "construed ... in the petitioner's favor." Dimott v. United States, 881 l;.3d 232, 240n.6(l st Cir. 2018) (citing In re Chance, 831 F.3d 1335, 1341 (11th Cir. 2016)). Such a rule is necessary, according to the courts that have adopted it, to avoid an "absurd" scheme under which "certain criminal defendants would be barred from raising an otherwise cognizable claim under Johnson (2015) because the sentencing judge did not specify which clause she was relying on at a time when that was not required." Butler, 253 F.Supp.3d at 140 (internal quotation marks omitted). "To require more," some courts have cautioned, "would render Johnson relief virtually impossible to obtain." Booker, 240 F.Supp.3d at 169 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Other courts have adopted a more stringent threshold rule under which a-post-Johnson 2015 habeas petitioner "bears the burden of establishing that it is more likely than not that he was sentenced solely pursuant to ACCA's residual clause." Dimott, 881 F.3d at 243 (emphasis added) (dismissing Johnson 2015 claim as untimely); see also Beeman v. United States,871 F.3d 1215, 1223-25 (11th Cir. 2017) (dismissing Johnson 2015 claim because petitioner "failed to prove-that it was more likely than not-he in fact was sentenced as an armed career criminal under the residual clause"); United States v. Washington,890 F.3d 891, 896 (10th Cir. 2018) (rejecting argument that defendant need only show that the "district court could have relied on the residual clause" and instead holding that "the burden is on the defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence-i.e., that it is more likely than not-his claim relies ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.