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United States v. Thomas

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 21, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMES A. THOMAS

          Jane Dattilo Assistant U.S. Attorney

          Renee Pietropaolo Assistant Federal Public Defender

          OPINION

          Gustave Diamond, United States District Judge

         Presently before the court is petitioner James A. Thomas' ("Thomas") Motion to Correct Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. §2255 (the "§2255 motion"), Supporting Brief and Supplemental Brief (Document Nos. 88, 96, 105), the government's Response and Supplemental Response thereto (Document Nos. 99 and 108), and Thomas' Replies (Document Nos. 100 and 110). For the reasons set forth below, Thomas' §2255 motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         On March 12, 2003, Thomas was charged in a three-count indictment with the following: possession with intent to distribute less than 100 grams of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C); possession with intent to distribute less than 500 grams of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§841 (a)(1) and 841 (b)(1)(C); and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). On April 7, 2004, Thomas changed his plea from not guilty to guilty to all three counts of the indictment.

         Prior to sentencing, a presentence investigation report ("PSIR") was prepared, which indicated that Thomas had sustained three prior Pennsylvania controlled substance convictions that qualified as "serious drug offenses" under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"). See 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(A). As a result, the court found that defendant was an armed career criminal who was subject to a statutory mandatory minimum term of 15 years imprisonment and that the advisory guideline sentencing range was 188 to 235 months imprisonment.

         On January 18, 2005, Thomas was sentenced to three concurrent terms of 180 months imprisonment followed by a 6-year term of supervised release. Thomas subsequently filed an appeal challenging the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The United States Court I of Appeals for the Third Circuit found no abuse of discretion in this court's denial of Thomas' motion and affirmed.

         Following the Supreme Court's decisions in Descamps v. United States. 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013)[1] and Mathis v. United States. 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), [2] Thomas filed the §2255 motion arguing that his three prior Pennsylvania controlled substance convictions no longer qualify as "serious drug offenses" under the ACCA. For reasons we explain below, Thomas is incorrect and therefore he is not entitled to relief under §2255.[3]

         II- Standard of Review

         A federal prisoner may move the sentencing court to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence "upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, . ., " 28 U.S.C, §2255(a). As a collateral challenge, a motion under 28 U.S.C. §2255 is reviewed much less favorably than a direct appeal of the sentence. United States v. Travillion. 759 F.3d 281, 288 (3d Cir. 2014). In general, §2255 is a vehicle to cure only jurisdictional errors, constitutional violations, proceedings that resulted in a "complete miscarriage of justice" or events that were "inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure." United States v. Timmreck. 441 U.S. 780, 783 (1979).

         III- Discussion

         In view of this standard, and for reasons explained below, Thomas is not entitled to relief under §2255 because his three prior Pennsylvania controlled substance convictions remain "serious drug offenses" under the ACCA.

         As stated, one of the offenses to which Thomas pled guilty in this case was possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). The ACCA imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for an individual who violates §922(g) and has three previous convictions for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on different occasions. See 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(1). As relevant here, a "serious drug offense" includes "an offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the ...


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