Thursday, August 23, 2012

Basis for Simmons Not Retroactive

US v. Powell: Powell was convicted of two drug counts that carried sentences of 10 years to life in prison.  Thanks to a prior North Carolina conviction, his mandatory minimum sentence was increased to 20 years.  That is the sentence he received.  Powell filed a 2255 motion seeking to vacate his conviction in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, in which the Court held that for purposes of determining the status of a prior conviction the applicable consideration was the maximum sentence to which the particular defendant was subject, rather than the hypothetical maximum sentence to which a generic defendant could be subject.  Powell argued that Carachuri-Rosendo was retroactive and applied to his prior North Carolina conviction (after his 2255 motion was filed, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the logic of Carachuri-Rosendo required a rethinking of its analysis of prior North Carolina convictions).  The district court disagreed and dismissed the motion.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Powell's motion.  It concluded that Carachuri-Rosendo announced a procedural rule, rather than a substantive one, and was thus not retroactive.  The Supreme Court's decision "at most altered the procedural requirements that mush be followed in applying recidivist enhancements and did not alter the range of conduct or the class of persons subject to criminal punishment."

Judge King dissented in part and concurred in part with the majority's decision.  He argued that the rule announced in Carachuri-Rosendo is substantive and, therefore, should be retroactive.  However, he ultimately agreed that dismissal was appropriate because Powell's sentence was not illegal even if Carachuri-Rosendo was retroactive because it was well within the limits of the statutory range without any recidivist enhancement.

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