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Rodriguez v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 2, 2018

JOEL RODRIGUEZ, (BOP Registration No. 42309-177), Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ED KINKEADE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Movant Joel Rodriguez, a federal prisoner, represented by counsel, has filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his federal sentence. See Dkt. No. 1. He argues that his prior Texas convictions for aggravated assault and armed robbery are no longer “violent felonies” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“the ACCA”) after Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). However, as explained below, those crimes are violent felonies under the ACCA's force clause, not the residual clause that was struck down in Johnson. Because Rodriguez's prior convictions still support his sentence under the ACCA, the Court DENIES his motion as meritless.

         Background

         Rodriguez pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). See United States v. Rodriguez, 3:10-cr-223-K (01), Dkt. No. 27. Because he had three prior violent felony convictions-two for Texas aggravated assault and one for Texas aggravated robbery-the Court sentenced him to 180 months in prison, the statutory minimum under the ACCA. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e); see also United States v. Rodriguez, 3:10-cr-223-K (01), Dkt. No. 23 at 10 (Presentence Report); United States v. Rodriguez, 3:10-cr-223-K (01), Dkt. No. 28 (adopting the Presentence Report). He did not appeal.

         In Rodriguez's Section 2255 motion, he argues that his sentence must be overturned in the wake of Johnson because his prior Texas convictions for aggravated assault and aggravated robbery are no longer “violent felonies” under the definition codified in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). See Dkt. No. 1 at 7.

         Legal Standards

         As the Supreme Court of the United States recounted in Johnson,

Federal law forbids certain people-such as convicted felons, persons committed to mental institutions, and drug users-to ship, possess, and receive firearms. § 922(g). In general, the law punishes violation of this ban by up to 10 years' imprisonment. § 924(a)(2). But if the violator has three or more earlier convictions for a “serious drug offense” or a “violent felony, ” [Section 924] increases his prison term to a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life. § 924(e)(1); Curtis Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 136 (2010). The Act defines “violent felony” as follows:
“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 involvesconduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).
The closing words of this definition, italicized above, have come to be known as the Act's residual clause.

135 S.Ct. at 2555-56 (citation modified).

         In Johnson, the Supreme Court struck down the residual clause, holding “that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process.” Id. at 2563. But Johnson did “not call into question application of the Act to the four enumerated offenses, or the remainder of the Act's definition of a violent felony.” Id. at 2563. So, after Johnson, “[a] violent felony is one of a number of enumerated offenses or a felony that ‘has an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.'” United States v. Moore, __ F. App'x __, __, 2017 WL 4804355, at *1 (5th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)).

         To determine whether Rodriguez's prior crimes are violent felonies under the force clause, the Court is required “first to determine the elements” of those crimes as codified in the Texas Statutes. See, e.g., United States v. Lerma, No. 16-41467, __ F.3d __, __, 2017 WL 6379724, at * 2 (5th Cir. 2017). “Elements are the constituent parts of a crime's legal definition-the things the prosecution must prove to sustain a conviction.” Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2248 (2016) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “At a trial, [elements] are what the jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant, ” and “[a]t a plea hearing, they are what the defendant necessarily admits when he pleads guilty.” Id. (citation omitted).

         “An element of a crime must be distinguished from the means of satisfying a single element.” Lerma, 2017 WL 6379724, at ...


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