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United States v. Villella

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2017

WILLIAM ANTHONY VILLELLA, Defendant. Crim. No. 06-06


          Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge


         This matter is before the Court on a § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence filed by Defendant William Anthony Villella. (Docket Nos. 99; 122). Defendant argues that his sentence of 180 months' imprisonment must be vacated in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2556-57 (2015), which held that the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is void for vagueness. (Id.). Defendant contends that, without the application of the ACCA enhancement, he would have been subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and would have had an advisory guidelines range of 33 to 41 months.[1] (Id.). Because he has already served a sentence far beyond that term, he maintains that he is entitled to immediate release. (Id.). The Government opposes the motion. (Docket No. 102; 125). Needless to say, the motion has been fully and competently briefed by the parties. (Docket Nos. 99; 102; 109; 116; 122; 125; 131; 135; 138). After careful consideration of the parties' positions and for the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is denied, and no certificate of appealability will be issued.


         On January 22, 2007, Defendant pled guilty to a one-count indictment that charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Following Defendant's guilty plea, the Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PIR”). According to the Probation Office, Defendant had a total offense level of 30 and a criminal history score of 70, establishing a criminal history category of VI. (PIR ¶¶ 23, 70). The resulting advisory Guidelines range was 168 to 210 months' imprisonment. (Id. ¶ 101). However, because Defendant was identified as an armed career criminal, he faced a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 180 months. (Id.). The Probation Office identified the following prior convictions to support the ACCA enhancement:

Armed Robbery on June 24, 1975, at Criminal No. 696-1975; Robbery on March 8, 1976, at Criminal No. 1976-0041; Robbery on September 28, 1978, at Criminal No. 197802577; Violation of Georgia Controlled Substance Act on February 4, 1986, at Criminal No. 86900054; Burglary on June 4, 1997, at Criminal No. 2083-1996; and Burglary on December 10, 1997, at Criminal No. 2084-1996.

(Id. ¶ 21).

         Prior to sentencing, Defendant objected to the ACCA enhancement “on the grounds that the qualifying convictions are ancient - 3 robberies 30 years old, a drug case 20 years old and involving a sale of ¼ ounce of marijuana for $15, and two burglaries 10 years old - and upon such grounds as [Defendant] will bring to the Court in his sentencing allocution.” (Docket No. 76 at 1). The Court addressed Defendant's objections in Tentative Findings and Rulings issued on September 28, 2007. (Docket No. 79). Applying Third Circuit precedent that was well-settled at the time, the Court held that “Defendant's argument as to the age of his previous convictions” was “without merit.” (Id. at 5). In addition, “although the Defendant did not explicitly challenge the Probation Officer's conclusion that his previous convictions constitute ‘violent felon[ies]' or ‘serious drug offense[s]' for purposes of the statutory enhancement under the ACCA, ” the Court nonetheless addressed the issue. (Id.). As the Court explained:

The Third Circuit has held that “any conviction for robbery under the Pennsylvania robbery statute, regardless of the degree, has as an element the use of force against the person of another.” United States v. Cornish, 103 F.3d 302, 309 (3d Cir. 1997) (holding that defendant's “conviction for third degree robbery is a ‘violent felony' pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(I)”); see also Preston, 910 F.2d at 86 (in holding that the crime of conspiracy to commit robbery was a “violent felony” within the meaning of section 924(e)(2)(B)(I), the Court noted that robbery “is a violent felony for purposes of 924(e)”); United States v. Watkins, 54 F.3d 163, 168 (3d Cir. 1995) (providing same and citing Preston). Accordingly, applying the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Court finds that Defendant's past three robbery convictions constitute “violent felon[ies]” and thus predicate offenses for purposes of section 924(e)(2)(B)(I). . . . [T]he Court's inquiry as to Defendant's previous convictions ends here because the Defendant qualifies as an armed career criminal under section 924(e). The Court declines to address Defendant's other prior convictions at this time and expresses no opinion as to whether said previous convictions constitute predicate offenses (either a “serious drug offense” or a “violent felony”) under the ACCA.

(Id. at 7-8) (emphases added). During the sentencing proceedings, the Court adopted its Tentative Findings and Rulings as its final rulings on the guidelines. (Docket Nos. 83; 92). On November 14, 2007, the Court sentenced Defendant to 180 months' imprisonment. (Docket No. 93). Defendant did not file a direct appeal. He is presently scheduled to be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on April 17, 2020.

         Defendant initiated these proceedings by filing his motion to vacate, through counsel, on May 3, 2016. (Docket No. 99). The initial motion was fully briefed with the Court also receiving: the Government's Response on May 24, 2016, (Docket No. 102); Defendant's Reply on July 27, 2016, (Docket No. 109); and the Government's Sur-Reply on September 2016, (Docket No. 116). Attached to the Government's response were records related to Defendant's ACCA predicate offenses, which were also made part of the record at the time of sentencing. (Docket No. 102-1). Thereafter, the Court granted Defendant leave to file a Supplemental Motion, which was submitted on February 9, 2017. (Docket No. 122). Additional briefing was permitted with leave of court, including: the Government's Response on March 9, 2017, (Docket No. 125); Defendant's Reply on April 5, 2017, (Docket No. 131); the Government's Supplement on April 7, 2017, (Docket No. 135); and Defendant's Response thereto on April 11, 2017, (Docket No. 138). Accordingly, Defendant's Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


         A prisoner in federal custody may move to vacate his or her sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) if such “sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A motion under § 2255 is a collateral challenge that is viewed less favorably than a direct appeal and “relief under § 2255 is available only when ‘the claimed error of law was a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice, and . . . present[s] exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ . . . is apparent.'” United States v. Travillion, 759 F.3d 281, 288 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333 (1974)) (further quotations omitted). Generally, a district court must order an evidentiary hearing in a federal habeas case if a criminal defendant's § 2255 allegations raise an issue of material fact. United States v. Biberfeld, 957 F.2d 98, 102 (3d Cir. 1992). But, if there is “no legally cognizable claim or the factual matters raised by the motion may be susceptible of resolution through the district judge's review of the motion and records in the case, ” the motion may be decided without a hearing. United States v. Costanzo, 625 F.2d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 1980); see also United States v. Lilly, 536 F.3d 190, 195 (3d Cir. 2008). If a hearing is not held, the district judge must accept the criminal defendant's allegations as true “unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record.” Gov't of Virgin Islands v. Bradshaw, 726 F.2d 115, 117 (3d Cir. 1984).

         Motions for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are governed by a one-year statute of limitations. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). The limitation period begins to run from the latest of:

(1) the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final;
(2) the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action;
(3) the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Id. § 2255(f)(1)-(4).


         A conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm generally carries a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). However, if a defendant “has three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another[, ]” the defendant faces a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. Id. ยง 924(e)(1). The ACCA defines ...

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