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United States v. Knox

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

December 15, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
JULIUS MAURICE KNOX DEFENDANT

          ORDER ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          David L. Bunning United States District Judge

         Proceeding pro se, Defendant Julius Maurice Knox filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. # 66).[1] In his Motion, Knox challenges his sentence pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) and argues he was denied effective assistance of counsel. Pursuant to the Court's local practice, the Motion was referred to a Magistrate Judge for preparation of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”).

         This matter is presently before the Court on Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins's R&R (Doc. # 69), wherein he recommends that the Court deny Knox's Motion to Vacate. Knox having filed Objections to the R&R (Doc. # 70), the United States having filed a Response to the Objections (Doc. # 72), and Knox having filed his Reply (Doc. # 73), the Motion is now ripe for the Court's review. Upon review, all of Knox's Objections lack merit, except his objection to the Magistrate Judge's reliance on his Assault in the Third Degree conviction as predicate offenses for purposes of the career offender guideline. Thus, the R&R will be partially adopted as the Court's Opinion.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The following factual and procedural background is taken from the Magistrate Judge's R&R:

On September 17, 2013, Defendant pled guilty to one count of distributing a controlled substance stemming from his sale of crack cocaine in a restaurant bathroom to a confidential police informant. Defendant's criminal history is lengthy: since the age of eighteen, Defendant has amassed fourteen convictions. Among them, Defendant was convicted in Kentucky for assault in the second degree under extreme emotional disturbance in 2003, for trafficking in a controlled substance in 2004, and assault in the third degree (as a persistent felony offender) on a corrections employee in 2011. Because at least two of those prior convictions were at the time considered to be “felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense, Defendant was classified as a “career offender.” In the Presentence Investigation Report, the United States Probation Officer calculated that Defendant's criminal convictions amounted to a score of 19, qualifying him as a Category VI offender; his status as a career offender also placed him in Category VI ... Based on this category, the Court ultimately sentenced Defendant to 198 months imprisonment followed by six years of supervised release.

(Doc. # 69, p. 1-2) (internal citations omitted).

         After challenging his sentence and classification as a “career offender” on direct appeal (Doc. # 62), [2] Knox has now filed the instant Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. # 66).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         A court may grant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 if the defendant establishes that: (I) the sentencing court imposed his sentence in violation fo the Constitution or laws of the United States; (ii) the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (iii) the sentence imposed exceeded the maximum authorized by law; or (iv) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         In his Motion, Knox relies primarily on Johnson, and contends that his prior conviction for assault in the second degree under extreme emotional disturbance falls within the residual clause of the United States Sentencing Guidelines' “career offender” enhancement, and that the Guidelines' residual clause has been invalidated. In addition, Knox claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during his sentencing. The Court will consider each of Knox's arguments in turn.

         B. “Career Offender” Designation

         Under United States Sentencing Guideline § 4B1.1, a criminal defendant classified as a “career offender” is subject to an enhanced advisory sentencing guideline range. There are three requirements for determining whether a defendant is a “career offender”: “(1) the defendant was at least eighteen years old at the time the defendant committed the instant offense of conviction; (2) the instant offense is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and (3) the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.” U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a). When Knox was sentenced, the Sentencing Guidelines' “crime of violence” and the Armed Career Criminal Act's “violent felony” were defined similarly, as any offense “punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year ... that ... has as an element the use, attempted, use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or ... is murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnaping, aggravated assault, a forcible sex offense, ...


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