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United States v. Brooks

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT,
v.
QUATEZ BROOKS, DEFENDANT/PETITIONER.

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          Edward B. Atkins United States Magistrate Judge.

         In November, 2013, Quatez Brooks acted with others to carry out a string of armed robberies and, on in the course of one, fired multiple shots in the direction of a store clerk and his son. On June 20 2016, Brooks pled guilty to one count of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii); six counts of conspiracy to carry and use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), and six separate counts of interfering with commerce. Brooks brings this action seeking relief from his conviction and sentence, relying on two recent Supreme Court cases holding unconstitutional the residual clauses of statutes defining the term “crime of violence”: Sessions v. Dimaya, ___U.S.___, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018) and United States v. Davis, ___U.S.___, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). To Brooks, these cases are important because he believes that they may form a basis to challenge his convictions for discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii); and conspiracy to carry and use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).

         The matter is now before the Court for an initial screening under Rule 4 of the Rules governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. Because no residual clause was instrumental in his convictions or his sentence, he not entitled to relief in this action. Therefore, the undersigned recommends that Brooks's §2255 request for relief be denied, and that this action be dismissed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may obtain post-conviction relief if his sentence violates the Constitution or federal law, the federal court lacked jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or the sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a); Mallett v. United States, 334 F.3d 491, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2003) (“In order to prevail upon a § 2255 motion, the movant must allege as a basis for relief: ‘(1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.'” (quoting Weinberger v. United States, 268 F.3d 346, 351 (6th Cir. 2001))). A defendant alleging a constitutional basis must establish “an error of constitutional magnitude” and show that the error had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence on the proceedings” in order to obtain § 2255 relief. Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 488 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 113 S.Ct. 1710, 1721-22 (1993)). When alleging a non-constitutional error, a defendant must prove that the error constituted a “‘fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice,' or, an error so egregious that it amounts to a violation of due process.” United States v. Ferguson, 918 F.2d 627, 630 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Hill v. United States, 82 S.Ct. 468, 471 (1968)); see also Watson, 165 F.3d at 488. In making a § 2255 motion, a movant generally bears the burden of proving factual assertions by a preponderance of the evidence. McQueen v. United States, 58 Fed.Appx. 73, 76 (6th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (“Defendants seeking to set aside their sentences pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 have the burden of sustaining their contentions by a preponderance of the evidence.”).

         DISCUSSION

         Brooks brings this § 2255 motion disputing his conviction and sentence in light of Sessions v. Dimaya, ___U.S.___, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018), which held unconstitutional the so-called residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 16(b), and United States v. Davis, ___U.S.___, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019), which held unconstitutional 18 U.S.C. § 924 (c)(3)(b). Both cases address statutes defining the phrase “crime of violence.” The outcomes in both Dimaya and Davis are the product of the exemplary legal doctrines outlined in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2555 (2015). Prior to Johnson, for some offenses, the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii)), acted to adjust a defendant's sentence from a 10-year maximum to a 15-year minimum with a maximum of life imprisonment. See Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2555. Johnson considered the residual clause of the ACCA, ultimately holding that the provision was unconstitutionally vague under the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Id. at 2563. Since Johnson made the residual clause invalid, it can no longer authorize any sentence.

         In Dimaya, the Supreme Court revisited the precedent in Johnson, evaluating the catch-all clause in the definition of “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 16(b). In the immigration context, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), if a defendant's prior conviction meets the definition of a “crime of violence” under § 16(b), the INA infrastructure mandated that the defendant be eligible for deportation.[1] Therefore, the Court held that the INA's use of this provision was impermissibly vague because vagueness concerns were at the forefront given the scheme's definite legal consequences. In holding unconstitutional the INA's use of the residual clause found in § 16(b), like the ACCA's residual clause, the Supreme Court underscored that the provision “produces more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.” Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. at 1223 (quoting Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2558).

         In recent years, as seen by the rulings in Johnson and Dimaya, the Supreme Court has trained its sights on the haziness of definite legal consequences and the shadow of unpredictable enforcement. In each of these cases, in determining whether an offense qualified as a crime of violence, the residual clause allowed judges to impose criminal punishments by estimating the degree of risk posed by a crime's imagined “ ‘ordinary case' ”; therefore, Courts were disregarding how the defendant had actually carried out the offense. Johnson, 135 S.Ct., at 2557.

         In United States v. Davis, ___U.S.___, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019), the Supreme Court was, again, posed with a query - analogous to those above- in considering the constitutionality of § 924(c), which “threaten[ed] long prison sentences for anyone who uses a firearm in connection with certain other federal crimes.” Id. at 2323. Specifically, the statute provides:

Except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by this subsection or by any other provision of law, any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime that provides for an enhanced punishment if committed by the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or device) for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime -
i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;
ii) if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and
iii) if the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not ...

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