Tag Archives: 2244

3rd Circuit Expands Second-and-Successive 2255 Rights – Update for September 12, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.

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ZAX’S PATIENCE REWARDED IN THE 3RD CIRCUIT

We reported several weeks ago that the 4th Circuit had joined the 6th in dodging the lingering question of whether Johnson v. United States applied to mandatory Guidelines sentences. Now, the 3rd Circuit has stepped into the breach.

violence151213The Armed Career Criminal Act provides that people with three prior convictions for serious drug offenses or crimes of violence face stiff mandatory minimum sentences. A crime of violence is defined as one of four specific offenses – burglary, extortion, arson or use of explosives – or any other crime that has as an element the actual or threatened use of physical force.

Up to two years ago, the ACCA’s definition has a third subcategory known as the residual clause. A crime of violence also included any crime that carried a substantial risk of physical harm to another. In Johnson, the Supreme Court ruled that this residual clause was so vague that the average person could not tell what offenses counted and what did not. Such a vague statute violates a defendant’s 5th Amendment due process rights. Because Johnson meant that a number of people serving ACCA sentences were in fact innocent of their offense, the Supreme Court held that it was retroactive, that is, that people already convicted could apply to courts with a 28 USC 2255 motion to obtain relief.

At the time, the ACCA definition of “crime of violence” appeared elsewhere in the criminal code as well as in the Guidelines, where it was used in several sections, especially in Chapter 4 to label someone a “career offender.” A “career offender” under the Guidelines faces dramatically increased sentencing ranges. Naturally, defendants serving long career offender sentences promptly filed for relief as well, despite the fact that Johnson only encompassed the ACCA, and not the Guidelines.

limitone170912Every federal criminal defendant is entitled to file one and only one 2255 motion after conviction, that filing being due within a year of the conviction becoming final. In order to file a second 2255, the defendant must request permission from the Court of Appeals first. Permission is granted only under limited circumstances, where there is newly discovered evidence that convincingly proves innocence, or where a new rule of constitutional law – like the Johnson holding – is made retroactive.

Soon after Johnson was decided in June 2015, Tom Hoffner asked the 3rd Circuit for permission to file a second 2255. He argued that Johnson was the new rule of constitutional law that should apply to his career offender sentence, which was handed down in 2000. Back then, judges were required by law to follow the Guidelines, which only changed in 2005 when the Supreme Court declared mandatory Guidelines unconstitutional in United States v. Booker.

zax170912Remember Dr. Seuss’s story of a North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax, who run into each other? Both are trying to get to their desired locations, but neither will move out of the way to let the other one pass. While both stand facing each other, unmoving, the world continues on moving and time passes by.

Tom’s case was something like that. The statute directs courts of appeal to decide applications to file second 2255s within 30 days. Holding that the 30-day language in 28 USC 2244 is merely “advisory,” the 3rd Circuit required over two years to decide whether Tom should be allowed to file a second 2255.

While Tom patiently waited, toe to toe with the government like the two Zaxes, the world did not stand still. First, the Supreme Court decided in Welch v. United States that the Johnson holding should be retroactive. Then, the Supreme decided last March in Beckles v. United States that Johnson would not be extended to people who were career offenders under the advisory Guidelines, leaving open the question of whether Johnson could be extended to people like Tom who had become career offenders under the mandatory Guidelines.

After that, two cases that many thought would decide whether Johnson extended to mandatory Guidelines people the 6th Circuit in United States v. Raybon and the 4th Circuit in United States v. Brown – ended up turning on the decidedly procedural question of whether the 2255s had been filed on time.

rely170912Finally, Tom’s time came last Thursday. The 3rd Circuit handed down 25 pages of careful thought-out analysis on the issue, concluding that while Johnson did not necessarily address Tom’s precise issue, 2244(b) only looks at whether the movant’s claim “relies” on the new rule of constitutional law. Nothing mandates that it be precisely the same point that the movant wants to claim. Thus, if Johnson is a new rule of constitutional law applying to language in the ACCA, and Tom “relies” on that rule in his argument that the same vagueness infirmity afflicts a guideline used to sentence him, that reliance is enough to come within the statute.

The Circuit held that in analyzing 2244 motions, the court needed to lean toward grant.

The context of Section 2244(b)… supports interpreting “relies” permissibly and flexibly… As explained above, Congress has mandated that the “grant or denial of an authorization… shall not be appealable and shall not be the subject of a petition for rehearing or for a writ of certiorari.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(E). This creates an asymmetry in the impact of our gatekeeping decision on a particular case… On one hand, if we erroneously deny authorization, the petitioner “will have no opportunity to appeal or seek rehearing.” On the other hand, “if we err in granting certification, ample opportunity for correcting that error will remain.” The district court will have the opportunity to determine anew whether the petitioner has “shown that the claim satisfies the requirements of this section,” and whether the habeas petition has merit… In turn, we may review the district court’s decision.

It’s not a done deal that Tom will win the 2255 motion he now has permission to file (although you could be forgiven for reading it like the 3rd thinks he will). But the Circuit seems pretty convinced that there’s some merit in his claim.

The significance of this decision, which the 3rd Circuit issued as precedential, is its thoroughness in discussing the 2244 process. In a world where most decisions on second-and-successive 2255s are three-page affairs, and where the statutory limitations on certiorari mean that the Supreme Court will never be able to opine on the matter, this decision is as much guidance as any court has ever given on 2244 practice.

In re Hoffner, Case No. 15-2883 (3rd Circuit, Sept. 7, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root

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2nd Circuit Says Mathis Is Nothing Special – Update for July 14, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.

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YESTERDAY WAS A BUSY ONE IN MANHATTAN

silver170714All right, we’ll lead with what everyone is talking about: Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit – while holding its collective nose – threw out former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s 2015 fraud and corruption conviction. As soon as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York could put down his coffee cup, he announced that his office would retry the case.

And why not? The Court of Appeals almost begged the prosecution to retry the case, this time with a correct set of jury instructions. “We recognize that many would view the facts adduced at Silver’s trial with distaste,” Judge José Cabranes wrote. “The question presented to us, however, is not how a jury would likely view the evidence presented by the government. Rather, it is whether it is clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a rational jury, properly instructed, would have found Silver guilty. Given the teachings of the Supreme Court in McDonnell, and the particular circumstances of this case, we simply cannot reach that conclusion.”

The Court ruled that the evidence in Silver’s high-profile trial was certainly enough to convict him of money laundering, Hobbs Act extortion and honest services fraud. But after the Supreme’s decision last summer in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of “official acts,” a necessary element of bribery, the panel said the trial court erred by not properly instructing the jury on the charges of honest services fraud and extortion.

But we march to the tune of a different drummer, so our focus is on yesterday’s 2nd Circuit decision in Washington v. United States, one much more consequential to federal inmates.

burglary160502The Supreme Court’s decision last year in Mathis v. United States dramatically tightened the rules used in determining whether defendants’ prior state convictions fit the generic definitions of crimes used in “crime-of-violence” definitions sprinkled throughout the U.S. criminal code. The stakes are high: two defendants may have both committed three of the same types burglaries before being caught with a gun. But because the state statute under which one was convicted defined burglary to include breaking into cars as well as houses, those burglaries are not “burglaries” as defined in the Armed Career Criminal Act. That defendant gets 60 months in prison.

The other guy was convicted in a neighboring state’s statute, which defines burglaries as being committed only on structures. That is not too broad, so his burglaries qualify him for sentencing as under the Armed Career Criminal Act. He will get at least 180 months (15 years) under the ACCA, no matter how the judge might feel about it.

The ACCA is where the battle has mostly been fought, but similar “crimes-of-violence” definitions are used in the Sentencing Guidelines, in the statute on carrying a gun during a crime of violence (18 USC 924(c)) and in the general crime-of-violence definition in 18 USC 16(b), which has great consequence for immigrants subject to deportation for serious crimes.

diagram170714So Mathis, which limited when courts could look at the actual burglary conduct of the defendant and tightened how statutory terms could be defined (remember sentence diagrams in 7th grade English?), is as important to defendants as it is arcane. Of course, equally important to the defendants who have already been convicted and sentenced based on prior crimes of violence is whether the redefinition of the interpretative rules in Mathis is retroactive to their cases. Is Mathis a get-out-of-jail card?

The law substantially limits second bites of the post-conviction apple. Inmates who have filed habeas corpus motions under the statute (28 USC 2255) may not file second 2255 motions without getting prior permission from a court of appeals under 28 USC 2244. That permission is granted only where the new decision that will free them – in this case Mathis – is retroactive. If it’s retroactive, inmates have one year from the new decision’s issuance to file their second 2255.

There were some less-than-scrupulous “paralegal” firms busy earlier this year convincing inmates that they had to file for relief under Mathis by June 22, the one-year anniversary of Mathis. We complained a few months ago that there was no way Mathis could be held to be retroactive, and that filing a 2244 motion with the court of appeals was a waste of time and money.

Some guys didn’t get the message. One was Ronnie Washington, who was sentenced to 240 months’ imprisonment as a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the advisory Sentencing Guidelines. His 2244 motion to the 2nd Circuit asked permission to file a new 2255 motion on the grounds that his prior state law convictions for drug trafficking was unconstitutional in light of Mathis. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals turned him down.

A second or successive 2255 motion on a ground not previously presented is allowed only if the court of appeals certifies that the motion is based on either newly discovered evidence or “a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.”

mathis170714Ronnie argued that Mathis “established a new rule that makes” his unconstitutional. The Court disagreed, finding that Ronnie’s “view of Mathis is without merit, as its holding was not based on the Constitution and was based on a rule applied for decades,” at least since the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Taylor v. United States. The Court said, “In sum, the Mathis Court was interpreting ACCA, not the Constitution… And although the Mathis Court noted that its ACCA interpretation had been based in part on constitutional concerns, those concerns did not reflect a new rule, for “Taylor set out the essential rule governing ACCA cases more than a quarter century ago.”

The 2nd Circuit decision joins those of three other circuits – the 5th, 7th and 11th – in holding that whatever Mathis may be, it’s not retroactive.

Washington v. United States, Case No. 17-780 (2nd Circuit, July 13, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root

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A Pair of Second-and-Successive 2255 Decisions – Update for June 5, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.

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AVENUES FOR SECOND-AND-SUCCESSIVE 2255 MOTIONS NARROWED

Most everyone is familiar with the rule that a defendant cannot file a second motion under 28 USC 2255 without prior permission from the court of appeals, granted under 28 USC 2255(h). To get permission, generally, a prisoner has to show either that there is a new retroactive change in the law made by the Supreme Court, or that there is some newly-discovered evidence – that could not have reasonably been found before – which will just about assure that he or she would have been found not guilty.

courthouseclosed170605The 9th and 11th Circuits handed down decisions on second-and-successives last week that restrict the ways prisoners can obtain leave to file. The 9th Circuit decision on intervening judgments is relatively unsurprising; the 11th Circuit decision – which drew a concurrence joined by two of the three judges on the panel denouncing the precedent the decision was obligated to follow – cements the 11th Circuit’s reputation as the most unfriendly forum for a federal prisoner seeking a means to raise a constitutional issue after his or her own go-around with a 2255 motion.

LISAStatHeader2smallNinth Circuit – Sentence Reduction Win Does Not Reset the 2255 Clock

If a defendant is lucky enough to have an intervening judgment, however, the clock is reset. So if Donnie Defendant wins a 2255 motion saying his lawyer messed up his sentencing, getting resentenced as a result, he will then be able to appeal the new sentencing and, after that, file another 2255 motion without getting any special permission.

reductions170605Chris Sherrod filed and lost his 2255 motion in 2014. The next year, however, he won a reduction in his drug sentence under 18 USC 3582(c)(2) based on the Sentencing Commission’s 2-level reduction issued in 2014.

After that, Chris filed another 2255 motion, arguing he did not need permission for a second-and-successive 2255, because the 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction was a new, intervening sentence. Last week, the 9th Circuit disagreed.

The Circuit said a 3582(c)(2) resentencing is “intended to authorize only a limited adjustment to an otherwise final sentence and not a plenary resentencing proceeding.” A district court ruling on a 3582(c)(2) makes only a limited adjustment to the sentence, and claims of error at the original sentencing cannot be raised.

For that reason, the 9th joined the 5th and 7th Circuits in holding that a 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction does not qualify as a new, intervening judgment, and therefore “does not wipe clean the slate of habeas applications that a prisoner has previously filed.”

Sherrod v. United States, Case No. 16-72178 (9th Cir., June 2, 2017)

LISAStatHeader2smallEleventh Circuit – Mathis Does Not Allow Raising Old Issue in Second 2255, No Matter How Wrong The Prior Denial Might Have Been

Orestes Hernandez was sentenced to 775 months imprisonment, 300 months of which came from three mandatory-minimum enhancements he got under 18 USC 924(c) for using a gun. After his conviction, he filed a 2255 motion that was denied.

Sentencestack170404After the 2015 decision in Johnson v. United States, Orestes asked for permission to file a second 2255 arguing that the three 924 convictions were no longer based on a crime of violence. The 4th Circuit denied his application, reasoning that his indictment showed that he was convicted under the Hobbs Act subpart that required a use of force.

However, after the decision in Mathis v. United States last summer, Orestes filed for permission to try a 2255 motion again. Using the rules outlined in Mathis, he said, there was no way his Hobbs Act conviction could be considered a crime of violence under 924(c)(3)(A)’s use-of-force clause.

Last week, the 11th Circuit denied him permission to go forward. A year ago, the Circuit handed down In re Baptiste, which held that under 28 USC 2244(b)(1) – which governs second-and-successive 2255 applications – a claim presented in the second-and-successive application that was raised in a prior application must be dismissed. Because Orestes previously filed a second-and-successive application based on Johnson, the 11th said, Baptiste prohibits his filing again.

Orestes argued that Mathis permitted the filing, but the appeals panel said “Mathis does not provide an independent basis for his application, as the Supreme Court’s holding in Mathis did not announce a ‘new rule of constitutional law’” under 28 USC 2255(h). Instead, Mathis just “provided guidance to courts in interpreting an existing criminal statute. “

eye-needle170605In a concurring opinion, Judge Martin (joined by Judge Jill Pryor) denounced the Baptiste rule. “Mr. Hernandez asks us to make sure the crimes he was charged with qualify as crimes of violence so as to justify the 25 extra years he received under § 924(c),” they said. “However, we are barred from reviewing his application by In re Baptiste… which held that ‘the federal habeas statute requires us to dismiss a claim that has been presented in a prior application’ to file a § 2255 motion. I have stated my view that this bar created by our Court in Baptiste has no basis in the text of the habeas statute.”

In re Hernandez, Case No. 17-11989E (11th Cir., May 31, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root

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