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United States v. Knight

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2017



          William W. Caldwell, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Before this court is Defendant Anthony Knight's motion (Doc. 314) for release on bond pending disposition of his motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Defendant currently has a § 2255 motion pending before this court (Doc. 308), which was stayed pending the United States Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States, 616 F. App'x 415 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam), cert. granted, 136 S.Ct. 2510 (2016) (mem.). (Doc. 313). Defendant now argues that, because he is projected to be released from prison on April 19, 2017, and because the Supreme Court may not decide Beckles by that time, exceptional circumstances exist and a grant of bond pending the outcome of his § 2255 motion is necessary to avoid irreparable harm-specifically, his continued incarceration for the next several months. (Doc. 315 at 3); (Doc. 318 at 3-4). For the reasons that follow, we will deny Defendant's motion.

         II. Background

         On November 5, 2008, an indictment was filed charging Defendant and five other co-defendants with drug trafficking, firearms, and conspiracy offenses. (Doc. 90). On May 13, 2013, Defendant pled guilty, pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, to Count Seven of the indictment, which charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Doc. 90 at 7); (Doc. 264 at 1); (Doc. 269).

         A Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) was filed, which determined, under United States Sentencing Guideline (U.S.S.G.) § 2K2.1(a)(2), that Defendant's base offense level was 24 because he committed Count Seven subsequent to sustaining at least two felony convictions for crimes of violence; specifically, the PSR listed prior convictions for attempted robbery in 1988, escape in 2000, and resisting arrest in 2005. (PSR ¶¶ 14, 27, 35, 37). After applying a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a)-(b), Defendant's total offense level was 22, and, taking into account his Category VI criminal history, his Guideline range was 84 to 105 months' imprisonment. (PSR ¶¶ 20-21, 65). On July 8, 2014, this court adopted the PSR, granted a downward variance based on 18 U.S.C. § 2553(a), and sentenced Defendant to 60 months' imprisonment. (Doc. 292).

         On May 23, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to correct sentence under § 2255 claiming that the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (holding the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) unconstitutionally void for vagueness), is applicable to his sentencing under the career offender guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a), and that his prior convictions for attempted robbery, escape, and resisting arrest are no longer crimes of violence for which he could be subject to a sentencing enhancement. (Doc. 308). Without the enhancement, Defendant's Guideline range would be 21 to 27 months' imprisonment. (Doc. 315 at 3). On August 31, 2016, we stayed Defendant's § 2255 motion until the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles. (Doc. 313). Following our stay, Defendant filed the instant motion requesting release on bond pending the disposition of his § 2255 motion. (Doc. 314).

         III. Discussion

         District courts have the discretion to order bail on bond pending the outcome of § 2255 proceedings. See United States v. Smith, 835 F.2d 1048, 1050 (3d Cir. 1987); see also United States v. Weicksel, 517 F.App'x 67, 68 (3d Cir. 2013) (referencing standard in Smith with regard to bail pending disposition of § 2255 motion). “[C]ourts that have been faced with requests for bail prior to ruling on a [§ 2255 motion] have developed standards requiring that a [defendant] (1) make out a clear case for [] relief on the law and facts, or (2) establish that exceptional circumstances exist warranting special treatment, or both.” Lucas v. Hadden, 790 F.2d 365, 367 (3d Cir. 1986). “[A]s a threshold matter, the [defendant] bears the burden of showing that [his] case presents extraordinary circumstances warranting bail consideration.” Leslie v. Holder, 865 F.Supp.2d 627, 635 (M.D. Pa. 2012). “In making this threshold determination we are cautioned to consider both the merits of the claims made in the [defendant's § 2255 motion], and to ascertain whether the case presents exceptional circumstances which make the [defendant] a proper candidate for bail.” Id. at 635-36.

         The exceptional-circumstances standard “reflects the recognition that a preliminary grant of bail is an exceptional form of relief in a [§ 2255] proceeding.” Lucas, 790 F.2d at 367. To meet this standard, a defendant must make a “‘strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits, ' irreparable injury, injury to other parties interested in the proceeding, and the public interest.” Smith, 835 F.2d at 1050 (quoting Hilton v. Braunskill, 107 S.Ct. 2113, 2119 (1987)). Bail pending review of a § 2255 motion is typically available “only when the [defendant] has raised substantial constitutional claims upon which he has a high probability of success, and also when extraordinary or exceptional circumstances exist which make the grant of bail necessary to make the habeas remedy effective.” Landano v. Rafferty, 970 F.2d 1230, 1239 (3d Cir. 1992).

         Here, Defendant argues that he has made a clear case for § 2255 relief. His § 2255 argument is as follows: the Supreme Court in Johnson held the residual clause of the ACCA unconstitutionally vague, and that ruling was made retroactive to cases on collateral review in Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016); Defendant received a sentencing enhancement under the career offender guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2, because it was determined that he had at least two prior convictions for crimes of violence; § 4B1.2 contains an identical residual clause to that which was found unconstitutional in Johnson, and Defendant claims he was sentenced under § 4B1.2's residual clause, as opposed to any of its other clauses; the Third Circuit, on direct appeal, has held § 4B1.2's residual clause unconstitutional in light of Johnson, and some district courts have retroactively applied that ruling to cases on collateral review; therefore, Defendant's sentence should be vacated and he should be resentenced without the career offender enhancement because § 4B1.2's residual clause is unconstitutional and such a ruling is a “new right” recognized by the Supreme Court that is retroactively applicable to his sentencing.[1]

         Here, contrary to his assertion, the relief to which Defendant claims entitlement in his § 2255 motion is far from clear; therefore, Defendant has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of the motion. See Smith, 835 F.2d at 1050; Landano, 970 F.2d at 1239. We stayed Defendant's § 2255 motion because the Supreme Court in Beckles is slated to-hopefully-answer the issues that Defendant raises regarding the constitutionality of the career offender guideline. The Supreme Court's decisions in Johnson and Welch were limited to defendants sentenced under the ACCA, and the Court did not give any indication that it was creating a new right that was applicable to defendants allegedly sentenced under the career offender guideline's residual clause, let alone establish that such a right would be retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. See, e.g., United States v. Kenney, No. 1:92-CR-22, 2016 WL 7117919, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2016) (Caldwell, J.) (“In short, neither Johnson nor Welch sweeps so broadly so as to create a newly recognized “right” that encompasses collateral challenges to the vagueness of the career offender guideline's residual clause.”).

         The Supreme Court in Beckles may or may not create a new right to collaterally attack a sentence enhanced by the career offender guideline's residual clause, or it may pass on the issue altogether. If the Supreme Court declines to address the issues of constitutionality or retroactivity in Beckles, or if it decides that the career offender guideline's residual clause is constitutional, or if it decides that, even if the clause is unconstitutional, such a ruling is not retroactive to cases on collateral review, Defendant would face an insurmountable time bar to his § 2255 motion. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3) (setting one-year statute of limitations to run from “the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court”). As such, in this case, the only way for Defendant's § 2255 motion-filed more than a year after his conviction became final-to overcome the gatekeeping requirements of § 2255(f) is if the Supreme Court were to decide both issues in Beckles (constitutionality and retroactivity) in a way that allowed him to avail himself of § 2255(f)(3) to make his § 2255 motion timely. The Supreme Court has yet to do either, and there is no way of knowing, beyond bare conjecture, how the Court will ultimately rule on these issues, or if it will decide them at all.

         A defendant may not be released pending a § 2255 motion solely because he has stated a plausible claim to relief; rather, he must make a “strong showing” that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his motion. Smith, 835 F.2d at 1050. Here, Defendant has not made such a showing by simply speculating that the Supreme Court will decide Beckles favorably in relation to his § 2255 claim. Thus, Defendant has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a high probability that his § 2255 motion is likely to be timely, let alone demonstrate that his motion is likely to succeed on its substantive merits.[2]Accordingly, we agree with the Government that Defendant has presented “a ...

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