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United States v. Rockwell

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

September 14, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
NELSON ROCKWELL, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before the Court are Nelson Rockwell's Motion For Relief Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 20), the Government's Response (Doc. 23) and Supplement to Response (Doc. 24), Rockwell's Reply (Doc. 25) and Amended Reply (Doc. 29), and the Government's Sur-Reply (Doc. 32). Rockwell's Motion argues that he was sentenced under the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), which was held unconstitutional in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The Government's Sur-Reply concedes that the sentence is unconstitutional and must be vacated. The Court therefore GRANTS Rockwell's Motion (Doc. 20) and ORDERS the case to be set for resentencing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nelson Rockwell pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) on November 18, 2011. On March 1, 2012, the U.S. Probation Office filed a a final Pre-Sentence Investigation Report ("PSR") noting that Rockwell had three prior violent felony convictions, which qualified as predicate offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (the "ACCA"). (Doc. 16). Under the ACCA, a defendant convicted of an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) who has three previous convictions for a "violent felony" or a "serious drug offense" is subject to a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. In Rockwell's case, the PSR relied on the following three prior violent felony convictions: (1) a burglary offense in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1998; (2) a second-degree burglary offense in Mt. Vernon, Missouri in 1998; and (3) an attempted third-degree burglary offense in Van Buren, Iowa, in 1999. Accordingly, on March 1, 2012, this Court[1] enhanced Rockwell's sentence under the ACCA, and sentenced him to 180 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a $100.00 special assessment. (Doc. 18).

         Rockwell filed the instant Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to vacate his sentence on April 18, 2016. The Motion contends that his 1998 second-degree burglary and 1999 attempted third-degree burglary offenses no longer qualify as predicate violent felonies under the ACCA after Johnson, 135 S.Ct. 2551. Initially, in its Response to Rockwell's Motion, the Government disagreed, and argued that those offenses remained predicate violent felonies, even in the wake of Johnson. However, shortly after the Government filed its Response, the Supreme Court decided the case of Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), which clarified the process for determining whether certain offenses constitute violent felonies. In light of Mathis, the Government's Sur-Reply concedes that Rockwell's 1998 second-degree burglary and 1999 attempted third-degree burglary offenses no longer qualify as predicate violent felonies under the ACCA, and that he is entitled to resentencing.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. The ACCA

         Generally, a defendant found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) is subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). However, if the defendant has three or more prior convictions for a "serious drug offense" or a "violent felony, " the ACCA imposes a minimum term of imprisonment of fifteen years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The ACCA defines "violent felony" as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment 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.

18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

         The phrase "or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" is known as the ACCA's "residual clause." See Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2556. In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause was unconstitutionally vague because "the indeterminacy of the wide-ranging inquiry required by the residual clause both denies fair notice to defendants and invites arbitrary enforcement by judges." 135 S.Ct. at 2557. Accordingly, "[increasing a defendant's sentence under the clause denies due process of law." Id.

         In striking the residual clause, the Court held the clause void in its entirety. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 2561. Additionally, on April 18, 2016, the Supreme Court held that Johnson announced a new substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review. Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016).[2] Thus, defendants whose sentences were previously enhanced under the ACCA may be entitled to resentencing if the prior felonies on which the enhancement relied only qualified as violent felony predicates under the residual clause.

         B. Determining Whether a State-Law Conviction Qualifies as a ...


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