United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Dattilo Assistant U.S. Attorney
Pietropaolo Assistant Federal Public Defender
Gustave Diamond, United States District Judge
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.
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.
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.
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.
the Supreme Court's decisions in Descamps v. United
States. 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013) and Mathis v. United States.
136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016),  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.
Standard of Review
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).
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.
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 ...