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United States v. Jennings

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
EDDIE JENNINGS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Eddie Jennings filed a Motion to Correct Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons discussed below, his petition is dismissed as untimely.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 24, 1992, a jury found Eddie Jennings guilty of assault on a correctional officer[1] and destruction of government property.[2] On February 18, 1993, this Court sentenced him to 36 months' imprisonment for those crimes.[3] He continues to serve that sentence in a federal penitentiary.

         On June 21, 2016, Mr. Jennings filed a Motion to Correct Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. In his petition, he alleged that he was sentenced as a “career offender” under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”); that his career offender status was determined using the Guidelines' “residual clause”; that the Guidelines' residual clause is unconstitutionally vague in light of Johnson v. United States;[4] and that his sentence, therefore, should be vacated and corrected.

         On September 15, 2016, this Court stayed proceedings on Mr. Jennings' petition in light of the Supreme Court's grant of a writ of certiorari in Beckles v. United States.[5] The Beckles decision was issued on March 6, 2017, [6] and the stay of Mr. Jennings' petition was lifted the same day. The United States responded to the petition on April 19, 2017, and Mr. Jennings replied to that response on April 28, 2017.

         II. LAW

         A petition filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 faces a one-year period of limitations that runs from:

(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.[7]

         When a petitioner is relying on “a right . . . newly recognized by the Supreme Court” - i.e., the limitations provision of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3) - he must point to a “new rule” on which he relies.[8] As the Supreme Court has noted, a “new rule” in this context is one “not dictated by precedent existing at the time the [petitioner's] conviction became final.”[9] If a Supreme Court holding was not “apparent to all reasonable jurists” at the time it was rendered, it was not “dictated by” existing precedent and is, therefore, a “new rule.”[10]

         Here, as his “new rule, ” Mr. Jennings points to Johnson, where the Supreme Court held that a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was unconstitutional.[11] A defendant convicted under the ACCA normally faces up to 10 years' imprisonment;[12] a defendant with three or more earlier convictions for either a “serious drug offense” or a “violent felony, ” however, faces a minimum of 15 years' imprisonment.[13] A “violent felony, ” in turn, is defined to include, inter alia, an offense punishable by more than one year imprisonment that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”[14]These last thirteen words, which seek to capture crimes not otherwise covered by the remainder of the ACCA's definition of “violent felony, ” have become known as the “residual clause.”[15] In Johnson, the Supreme Court, “convinced that the indeterminacy of the wide-ranging inquiry required by the residual clause both denies fair notice to defendants and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges, ” held the clause unconstitutionally vague and violative of due process.[16]

         After Johnson was decided, a number of defendants challenged sentences imposed pursuant a residual clause in the Guidelines.[17] Noting that the Guidelines' residual clause is identical to the unconstitutionally vague residual clause in the ACCA, the defendants argued that their sentences, too, were constitutionally problematic. Some courts were receptive to this approach, and others were not. In United States v. Calabretta, for example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, relying on Johnson, held the Guidelines' residual clause unconstitutionally vague;[18] the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in In re Griffin, came to the opposite conclusion.[19] The Supreme Court solved some of this confusion in Beckles when it held that the Guidelines - including their residual clause - are not subject to vagueness challenges, [20] at least in cases where the Guidelines were merely advisory.[21]

         III. ...


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