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United States of America v. Sean Branham

December 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pratter, District Judge



Sixteen years ago a jury convicted Sean Branham of two counts of separate armed assaults on U.S. Postal Service letter carriers and two counts of pointing a gun at the two letter carriers during each of the two assaults. Our now deceased colleague, District Judge Charles Weiner, imposed a sentence of 244 months imprisonment.*fn1 Both Mr. Branham and the Government timely appealed. Mr. Branham took exception to the trial court's denial of the defense suppression motion as well as to the court's refusal to discount the guidelines' impact of his criminal history. The Government appealed the trial court's declination to impose a 20 year mandatory consecutive sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Branham's arguments but accepted those of the Government. Thus, the appellate court vacated the 244 month sentence and remanded the case for re-sentencing.

On May 24, 1996, the district court re-sentenced Mr. Branham to a total of 400 months imprisonment, comprised of concurrent 100 month sentences on the two assault counts, 60 consecutive months for one of the gun counts and, as instructed by the Court of Appeals, 240 further consecutive months on the Count 8 gun charge. Mr. Branham's appeal contending that the sentence was excessive was denied when the Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence on March 14, 1997.

Mr. Branham now submits his pro se § 2255 motion claiming, inter alia,that his attorney was ineffective for (1) failing to conduct a meaningful investigation and not disputing the "career offender" designation on the grounds that the simple assault, a misdemeanor, was not a crime of violence, (2) failing to challenge the Court of Appeals' jurisdiction to consider the Government's appeal, and (3) colluding with the Government due to a conflict of interest arising from criminal charges pending against counsel at the time of his representation of Mr. Branham.*fn2


As an initial matter, Mr. Branham's § 2255 Petition is entirely untimely. Section 2255, which allows defendants to collaterally attack their convictions and/or sentences while in prison, has a one year limitations period that only permits a defensive filing within one year of the latest of:

(1) the date on which judgment of conviction became final;

(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by government action in violation of the Constitution or federal laws is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;

(3) the date on which the right asserted by defendant was first recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable; or

(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim could have been discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(f).*fn3

Subsections 1, 2, and 4 of § 2255(f) do not appear to give any solace here to Mr. Branham, and, indeed, he does not appear to mount any argument to the contrary. In regards to subsection 3 of § 2255(f), Mr. Branham's primary claim is that he should not have received career offender status because in Johnson v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1265 (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court created new substantive law suggesting that not every simple assault is a crime of violence for the purposes of Guideline § 4B1.1,*fn4 and that in order to qualify as such, the record must categorically reflect that the assault constituted a crime of violence. Accordingly, Mr. Branham argues that because he pled only to simple assault under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2701 as his prior offense, and there is nothing categorical on the record to suggest that he committed a crime of violence, Johnson dictates that he should not have received the career offender enhancement to his sentence.

The Government, on the other hand, argues that the new right asserted by Mr. Branham was, if at all, first recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137 (2008), where the Court held that for a crime to constitute a "violent felony" under the second prong of the ACCA, it must involve "purposeful 'violent' and 'aggressive' conduct."*fn5 Id. at 144-45. The Government interprets Johnson merely as a refinement of the holding in Begay, not as a recognition of any new substantive rights. Accordingly, the Government reasons, Mr. Branham's ยง ...

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