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United States v. Meadows

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

July 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WALTER DEWAYNE MEADOWS, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LEE YEAKEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court in the above-styled and numbered cause are Walter Dewayne Meadow's Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 filed June 24, 2016 (Dkt. No. 56), Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Vacate filed June 28, 2017 (Dkt. No. 60), Government's Answer to Defendant's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence filed August 2, 2017 (Dkt. No. 63), Reply to the Government's Response to the Motion to Vacate filed September 13, 2017 (Dkt. No. 65), Briefing Responsive to the Court's Order filed August 30, 2018 (Dkt. No. 69), Government's Response and Motion to Deny Petitioner's Request for 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Relief filed October 15, 2018 (Dkt. No. 72), and Reply to the Government's October 15, 2018 Response filed October 25, 2018 (Dkt. No. 73). Having reviewed the motion, responses, replies, briefing, the applicable law, and the entire record in this cause, the court will grant the motion to vacate for the reasons to follow.

         I. Background

         "When compliance with the U.S. Sentencing guidelines was still understood to be mandatory, district courts were required to impose an extended term of incarceration on so-called career offenders." Cross v. United States, 892 F.3d 288, 291 (7th Cir. 2018); see also United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 234 (2005) (recognizing the Guidelines were "binding on judges" and "carried the force and effect of law"). The Guidelines mandated an enhanced sentence for so-called "career offender[s]" with "at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense." See U.S.S.G. § 4Bl.l(a). As relevant here, the Guidelines defined a crime of violence as including any offense "involving] conduct that present[ed] a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Id. at 4B 1.2(a)(2).[1] This catch-all phrase defining a crime of violence is known as the "residual clause."

         Petitioner Walter Dewayne Meadows pleaded guilty on April 28, 2004, to one count of Felon in Possession of a Firearm, without the benefit of a plea agreement. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The presentence-investigation report calculated Meadows's base-offense level as 24, because of two prior felony convictions for "crimes of violence" under the residual clause. Meadows was convicted under Texas law of sexual assault of a child and attempted murder, which resulted in a mandatory Guideline range of 77-96 months' imprisonment. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.011, 19.02. On July 8, 2004, this court sentenced Meadows to a term of imprisonment of 84 months.

         Since this court sentenced Meadows, several legal developments drastically reshaped federal sentencing. First, the Supreme Court held the mandatory nature of the Sentencing Guidelines to be unconstitutional. See Booker, 543 U.S. at 234. Then, in Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court held the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act -which enhanced a sentence based on previous convictions that "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another"-to be unconstitutionally vague. See Johnson v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2563 (2015); 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). And, in Welch v. United States, the Supreme Court held that Johnson announced a new substantive rule retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. See Welch, __U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016).

         The Johnson decision lead to a wave of cases challenging criminal statutes with similar or identical language as that struck down in Johnson, including challenges to the residual clause of the career-offender sentencing guideline. See U.S.S.G.§ 4B1.1, 4B1.2(a)(2). One such decision reached the Supreme Court. In Beckles v. United States, the petitioner challenged his sentence, which was enhanced under the career-offender guideline after the Guidelines were made advisory by the Supreme Court's decision in Booker. See Beckles, U.S., 137 S.Ct. 886, 892 (2017). The Supreme Court held that because the Sentencing Guidelines were advisory at the time of Beckles' sentencing, and "merely guide[d] the exercise of a court's discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence within the statutory range," Johnson did not apply to Beckles's case. Beckles, 137 S.Ct. 886, 892 (2017). As the Court explained, "our cases have never suggested that a defendant can successfully challenge as vague a sentencing statute conferring discretion to select an appropriate sentence from within a statutory range .. .." Id. at 893. Thus, the Sentencing Guidelines' advisory-as opposed to mandatory-status meant the career-offender guideline was not subject to the same vagueness challenge raised in Johnson.

         Importantly, the Supreme Court left for another day the question of whether the principles announced in Johnson would render unconstitutional a sentence imposed under the pie-Booker career-offender guideline, when imposing a Guideline sentence was statutorily mandated. See Id. at 894-95 (repeatedly stating that the "advisory Guidelines" do not implicate the twin concerns of the vagueness doctrine); id. at 903 n.4 (Sotomayor, J., concurring) ("The Court's adherence to the formalistic distinction between mandatory and advisory rules at least leaves open the question whether defendants sentenced to terms of imprisonment before our decision in [Booker]-that is, during the period in which the Guidelines did 'fix the permissible range of sentences'-may mount vagueness attacks on their sentences.[2]).

         II. Application

         The issue squarely before the court today is whether a sentence imposed pie-Booker-at a time when this court was statutorily required to apply a Guideline sentence-may now be attacked on vagueness grounds. Meadows filed a motion to vacate his sentence under Section 2255. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. A federal prisoner "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" may ask the sentencing court to "vacate, set aside or correct the sentence." Id. at § 2255(a). This motion must be made within one year "from the latest of a set of enumerated events. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). One such event that tolls the usual one-year limitation is where the Supreme Court "newly recogiz[es]" a right and making that right "retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review." Id. at § 2255(f)(3). This period begins when the Supreme Court declares a new right, not when courts first acknowledge that right to be retroactive. See Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353, 356-60 (2005).[3] Thus, the timeliness of Meadow's motions hinges on whether the right he "assert[s] was initially recognized by" Johnson. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3).

         Courts are split on the question of whether a sentence enhanced by the career-offender guideline-imposed when the Guidelines were mandatory-is a right recognized by Johnson and thus, retroactively applicable to petitioners like Meadows. On one side of the issue, some courts have found that the "new right" recognized by Johnson and made retroactive in Welch is not the same right asserted by Meadows (and petitioners like him), and as a result their Section 2255 petitions are untimely. The Fourth, Sixth and Eleventh Circuits, along with a number of district courts, have taken this approach. See Raybon v. United States, 867 F.3d 625 (6th Cir. 2017); United States v. Brown, 868 F.3d 297 (4th Cir. 2017); United States v. Greer, 2018 WL 721675 (11th Cir. 2018).[4] These courts narrowly construe the term "right" as used in Section 2255 to encompass only the precise holding of the Supreme Court case at issue. Such a holding means the "right" recognized by Johnson is that a sentence enhanced under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutional and must be vacated. Under this approach, only petitioners challenging sentences imposed under the Armed Career Criminal Act's residual clause may take advantage of the tolling provision of Section 2255(f)(3). See, e.g., Raybon, 867 F.3d at 630 (extension of Johnson to the mandatory Guidelines would recognize a "new right"); Brown, 868 F.3d at 302 ("Beckles confirms that the Supreme Court has yet to recognize a broad right invalidating all residual clauses as void for vagueness simply because they exhibit wording similar to [Armed Career Criminal Act's] residual clause.").

         On the other hand, courts have determined that the statutory language of Section 2255(f)(3) should be read more broadly. The First Circuit concluded that:

Congress in [section] 2255 used words such as "rule" and "right" rather than "holding." Congress presumably used these broader terms because it recognizes that the Supreme Court guides the lower courts not just with technical holdings but with general rules that are logically inherent in those holdings, thereby ensuring less arbitrariness and more consistency in our law.

Moore v. United States, 871 F.3d 72, 82 (1st Cir. 2017); see also Cross v. United States, 892 F.3d 288, 294 (7th Cir. 2018) (holding that Johnson recognized "the right to be resentenced on the ground that the vague (yet mandatory) residual clause unconstitutionally fixed their terms of imprisonment"). These opinions conclude that challenges to sentences imposed under then-mandatory Guidelines rely on "exactly the right" Johnson recognized. Moore, 871 F.3d at 83.[5]These courts looked to the reasoning of Johnson-that a person has a right not to have his sentence dictated by the unconstitutionally vague language of the mandatory residual clause-to hold ...


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