United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Jmeal Collins requests resentencing pursuant to the Supreme
Court's decision in Johnson v. United States,
135 S.Ct. 2251 (2015). Johnson invalidated one
specific clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) (18
U.S.C. § 924(e) (2012)) as unconstitutionally vague. Mr.
Collins argues in his June 16, 2016 motion to correct
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 that but for the
application of the invalidated clause, his sentence would
have been significantly shorter. I will grant Mr.
Collins's motion to correct his sentence.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
petitioner's underlying crime is a 2002 conviction by
jury for one count of being a felon in possession of a
firearm under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), for which he was sentenced
under §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e) to twenty years
imprisonment and five years supervised relief. At the time of
his sentencing, Mr. Collins's presentence report
classified him as an armed career criminal based on four
previous violent felony convictions; this classification
subjected him to the ACCA's sentence enhancement. The
petitioner's four convictions were two first degree
robberies (18 Pa. C.S. § 3701(a)(1)(i)-(iii)(2017)) and
two aggravated assaults (18 Pa. C.S. § 2702(a)(1)-(2)
Mr. Collins previously filed a habeas claim, he had to seek
approval from the Third Circuit to proceed with this
successive petition, and the Third Circuit granted him that
permission on July 8, 2016. On Jan. 6, 2017, Mr. Collins
filed an unopposed motion to lift the administrative stay on
cases seeking relief based on Johnson, implemented
by then-Chief Judge Petrese B. Tucker. On Feb. 2, 2017, I
granted that motion. The government filed its response on
March 2, 2017, and Mr. Collins filed his reply on April 27,
prisoner in federal custody may file a motion pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255 challenging the validity of his sentence.
Section 2255 provides, in relevant part:
A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established
by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released 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, may move the court
which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct
28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) (2012).
considering a petitioner's motion for § 2255 relief,
“the court must accept the truth of the movant's
factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the
basis of the existing record.” United States v.
Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting
Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Forte, 865 F.2d
59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989)).
2255 provides that “[u]nless the motion and the files
and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner
is entitled to no relief, the court shall . . . grant a
prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues and make
findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect
thereto.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Conversely, a court
may dismiss a § 2255 motion where the records and files
show conclusively that the movant is not entitled to relief.
United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 326 (3d Cir.
The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)
case, I must determine whether Mr. Collins's prior state
convictions have “as an element the use, attempted use,
or threatened use of physical force, ” qualifying them
as violent felonies under the ACCA and triggering his
enhanced sentence. See § 924(e)(2)(B)(i). While
this question may be stated easily, the application of the
ACCA has become complex and murky.
ACCA imposes a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence on any
individual convicted under 18 U.S.C. §
922(g) who also has three previous independent
convictions “for a violent felony or a serious drug
offense, or both” (each crime punishable by over a year
imprisonment). § 924(e)(1). A § 922(g) offense
otherwise typically carries a ten-year maximum. See
§ 924(a)(2). Where the prosecution seeks an ACCA
sentence enhancement, the court must determine whether the
defendant has three qualifying convictions. Therefore, in
this case, the issue is whether the defendant's prior
convictions qualify as ACCA “violent felonies.”
ACCA defines a “violent felony” as
any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one
year . . . that-
(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened
use of physical force against the person of another; or
(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of
explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a
serious potential risk of physical injury to another[.]
§ 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).
ACCA definition of “violent felony” contains
three distinct clauses: the elements clause (subsection (i)),
the enumerated offenses clause (the first clause of
subsection (ii)), and the residual clause (the italicized
portion of subsection (ii)).
petitioner's case, and cases like it, stem from a 2015
U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the residual
clause, finding it unconstitutionally vague in violation of
the right to due process of law. Johnson, 135 S.Ct.
at 2557, 2563. The Johnson decision applies
retroactively to cases on collateral review. Welch v.
United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1268 (2016).
Collins's § 2255 motion, he argues that his prior
robbery and aggravated assault convictions do not fit within
the elements clause of the ACCA (the enumerated offenses
clause does not encompass either of these convictions) and
that his sentence is therefore unlawful. Now, after
Johnson and Welch, courts examining these
cases on collateral review must determine whether either of
the two remaining ACCA clauses encompasses the offenses that
triggered a petitioner's enhanced sentence.
determine whether a statute qualifies as an ACCA predicate, a
court must first determine whether the statute is divisible.
A statute is divisible when it lists elements in the
alternative. Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct.
2243, 2249 (2016); see also Descamps v. United
States, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2298 (2013). Elements are
items upon which a jury must agree in order to convict.
See Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2249.
statute is indivisible when its elements
“define a single crime.” Id. at 2248.
This is true even when the statute “enumerates various
factual means of committing a single
element.” Id. at 2249 (emphasis
added). Means, unlike elements, need not garner jury
unanimity. Id. If a statute is indivisible, the
court must apply the categorical approach, discussed below.
If the statute is divisible (lists alternative
elements), the court must instead apply the modified
categorical approach to determine whether an offense
constitutes an ACCA “violent felony.”
that, a sentencing court dealing with an “alternatively
phrased statute” must determine whether the alternative
items are elements or means. Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at
2256. To decipher between means and elements, a court may
look to the state statute and related case law. If, and only
if, those sources prove indeterminate, a court may
“peek” at record documents-and may do so
solely to determine whether the statutory
alternatives are means or elements. Id. at
restrained glance at the record should apply only in
occasional and appropriate instances-it “should prove
more the exception than the rule.” Id. If
after a “peek” at record documents, the
means/elements inquiry remains unclear, then the sentencing
court cannot satisfy the “demand for certainty”
required to qualify an offense as an ACCA “violent
felony.” Id. (quoting Shepard v. United
States, 544 U.S. 13, at 21 (2005)) (quotation marks
omitted). Record materials may not be used further in the
analysis unless the “peek” definitively reveals
the alternatives to be elements, and the modified categorical
approach (discussed below) applies. Id. at 2253-54,
statute is indivisible (its alternative items are means), a
court must apply the categorical approach. And if it is
divisible (the alternatives are elements), the modified
categorical approach applies. I will provide a discussion of
each in turn.