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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

June 16, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Movant's Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody. Respondent opposes the Motion and has filed an opposition in response to the Court's Order for same.

         Movant seeks to have his sentence vacated based upon Descamps v. United States, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013). Movant was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 844(3). This Court determined that this conviction was for a “crime of violence, ” thereby triggering the career offender enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a)(2). Having been previously convicted of three crimes of violence, the Court found Movant was subject to an enhanced sentence.

         Although Movant's sentence was affirmed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Williams, 690 F.3d 1056, 1068 (8th Cir. 2012), Movant now urges the Court to vacate his sentence based on Descamps and Elonis v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2001 (2015).


         In Descamps, the Supreme Court held that “sentencing courts may not apply the modified categorical approach” to determine if a conviction is a “violent felony” under the ACCA when the crime of conviction “has a single, indivisible set of elements.” See Descamps, 133 S.Ct. at 2281-82.

         Although 18 U.S.C. § 844(e) is a “divisible” statute, Movant argues that the unique facts of this case render it in effect, an “indivisible” statute which is not subject to the acceptable modified categorical approach for divisible statutes.

         Respondent argues that Descamps is inapplicable because Section 844(e) is a divisible statute and therefore does not fall within the parameters of Descamps.

         Additionally, Respondent argues that Descamps does not announce a new rule of law and therefore is inapplicable to cases on collateral review.

A “new rule” is one that “breaks new ground or imposes a new obligation on the States or the Federal Government.” Teague, 489 U.S. at 301, 109 S.Ct. 1060.Stated differently, “a case announces a new rule if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction became final.” Id. A rule is not dictated by existing precedent “unless it would have been ‘apparent to all reasonable jurists.' ” Chaidez v. United States, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1103, 1107, 185 L.Ed.2d 149 (2013) (quoting Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 528, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997)). But rules that apply a general principle to a new set of facts typically do not constitute new rules. Id.; Wright v. West, 505 U.S. 277, 309, 112 S.Ct. 2482, 120 L.Ed.2d 225 (1992) (Kennedy, J., concurring in the judgment).

         The Armed Career Criminal Act establishes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of fifteen years for defendants convicted of possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon if they have three prior convictions for “a violent felony.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The Act defines “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year ... that (i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, [or] involves the use of explosives.”2 Id. § 924(e)(2)(B). To determine whether a past conviction qualifies as a violent felony, courts use a categorical approach that looks to the fact of conviction and the statutory elements of the prior offense. Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 602, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 109 L.Ed.2d 607 (1990). In cases where a statute describes alternate ways of committing a crime-only some of which satisfy the definition of a violent felony-courts may use a modified categorical approach and examine a limited set of documents to determine whether a defendant was necessarily convicted of a violent felony. Id.; Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 20-21, 125 S.Ct. 1254, 161 L.Ed.2d 205 (2005). These materials include charging documents, jury instructions, plea agreements, transcripts of plea colloquies, or “some comparable judicial record.” Shepard, 544 U.S. at 26, 125 S.Ct. 1254; see also Taylor, 495 U.S. at 602, 110 S.Ct. 2143.

         In Descamps, the Supreme Court addressed whether courts could consider these judicial records when examining convictions under an indivisible statute that “criminalizes a broader swath of conduct” than necessary to establish a violent felony. Descamps, 133 S.Ct. at 2281. In Descamps, the defendant had sustained a prior conviction for burglary under a state statute that did not require the perpetrator's entry to be unlawful. Id. at 2282. The statute thus prohibited a broader range of conduct than the generic definition of burglary, which encompasses “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.” Id. at 2283 (emphasis added) (quoting Taylor, 495 U.S. at 599, 110 S.Ct. 2143).

         The Court explained that Taylor and Shepard both addressed divisible statutes-statutes with multiple elements set out in the alternative-and held that the modified categorical approach may be used to determine which elements formed the basis of a defendant's prior conviction. Id. at 2285 & n. 2. Once the elements underlying the crime of conviction are ascertained, the categorical approach is used to determine whether the crime is a violent felony. Id.

Descamps held, however, that the modified categorical approach does not apply to indivisible statutes, because such statutes do not require a choice between alternatives. Rather, the indivisible statute in Descamps posed “a simple discrepancy between generic burglary and the crime established [under California law].” Id. The elements of the defendant's prior conviction for burglary were known. Because those elements did not correspond to the generic definition of ...

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