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Hunt v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 12, 2019

WILLIAM EARL HUNT, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Petitioner William Earl Hunt's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence imposed in 2009 under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). Civ. Doc. 1.[1] Hunt filed this § 2255 motion challenging his designation as an armed career criminal under the ACCA based upon the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). Hunt argues that, under Johnson, in which the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the “violent felony” definition in the ACCA is unconstitutional, he no longer has three prior convictions that qualify as ACCA predicates. He seeks resentencing without application of the ACCA.

         II. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In September 2008, Hunt pled guilty under a plea agreement to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). See Crim. Doc. 85. A conviction under § 922(g)(1) normally carries a sentence of not more than ten years' imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). However, under the ACCA, an individual who violates § 922(g) and has three prior convictions for a violent felony, a serious drug offense, or both, is subject to an enhanced sentence of not less than fifteen years. 28 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1); see also Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 258 (2013) (noting the typical statutory maximum sentence and the ACCA's heightened mandatory minimum for § 922(g) convictions).

         In January 2009, when Hunt was sentenced, the ACCA defined 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”; (2) “is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives”; or (3) “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). These definitions of “violent felony” fall into three respective categories: (1) the elements clause; (2) the enumerated-offenses clause; and (3) the (now void) residual clause. See In re Sams, 830 F.3d 1234, 1236-37 (11th Cir. 2016).

         In Hunt's case, the U.S. Probation Officer stated in the presentence investigation report (“PSI”) that Hunt had the requisite number of predicate convictions to subject him to an ACCA-enhanced sentence; those convictions were listed as follows:

• a 1987 conviction for the sale or delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine; two counts) in the Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Dade County, Florida (No. 86-29497);
• a 1988 conviction for trafficking in cocaine in the Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Dade County, Florida (No. 87-27947); and
• a 1999 conviction for robbery with a weapon in the Circuit Court of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Duval County, Florida (No. 98-12648).

See Crim. Doc. 76 at 4-5, ¶ 12; id., ¶ 18; id. at 6-8, ¶¶ 23, 24 & 32.[2]

         The PSI did not specify which clause of the ACCA definition of “violent felony” Hunt's Florida robbery conviction fell under. Hunt's sentencing hearing was held on January 8, 2009. See Crim. Doc. 86. The district court adopted the findings in the PSI, specifically adopting the findings that Hunt's offense level was 30; that his criminal history category was IV; and that his sentencing guidelines range was 180 months because the ACCA applied to him. Id. at 6. After hearing from the parties on the appropriate sentence, the district court sentenced Hunt under the ACCA to 180 months in prison. Id. at 8. The district court did not specify which clause of the ACCA definition of “violent felony” it was relying on in using Hunt's Florida robbery conviction as a predicate conviction under the ACCA or specifically state that it found Hunt's Florida drug convictions to be serious drug offenses. Hunt did not appeal his conviction and sentence.

         In June 2015, over six years after Hunt was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court held that the ACCA's residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). In Johnson, the Court reasoned: “[T]he indeterminacy of the wide-ranging inquiry required by the residual clause both denies fair notice to defendants and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges. Increasing a defendant's sentence under the clause denies due process of law.” Id. at 2557. However, the Court “d[id] not call into question application of the [ACCA] to . . . the remainder of the Act's definition of a violent felony.” Id. at 2563 (alterations added). Subsequently, in Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), the Supreme Court held that the Johnson decision announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law that applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.

         On May 26, 2016, Hunt, proceeding pro se at the time, filed a § 2255 motion appearing to argue, among other things, that he is entitled to be resentenced without the ACCA enhancement because, after Johnson, his convictions for the sale and delivery of cocaine and for trafficking in cocaine do not qualify as “serious drug offenses” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A) of the ACCA.[3] See Civ. Doc. 1 at 1 & 9-14. Hunt's pro se § 2255 motion also asserted numerous other claims unrelated to the holding in Johnson, including various allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, entrapment, sentence manipulation, unlawful arrest, prosecutorial misconduct, and the unconstitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A). Id. at 4-10.

         On June 22, 2016, under a Standing Order concerning defendants sentenced in this District who raise claims under Johnson, this court appointed the District's Federal Defender Organization to represent Hunt “for purposes of reviewing his case . . . and to take all appropriate future action as is necessary.” Civ. Doc. 3. On July 7, 2016, the Federal Defender, on behalf of Hunt, filed a supplement to the § 2255 motion presenting claims that (1) Hunt's Florida robbery conviction did not include as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force necessary to satisfy the ACCA's elements clause, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i), and could only have been deemed a violent felony under the now-void residual clause in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), [4] so that use of the conviction as a predicate offense in applying the ACCA enhancement violated ...


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