Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Simmons Is Retroactive (Even If It's Impetus Isn't)

Miller v. US: This is another case involving the fallout from the Fourth Circuit's 2011 decision in Simmons in which it reversed course on the proper analysis for prior convictions from North Carolina.

Miller was convicted in 2008 of being a felon in possession of a firearm.  At the time, his prior North Carolina convictions counted as felonies, even though under state law he could only have  received a maximum sentence of eight months in prison for each.  After Simmons, those priors no longer qualified as felonies.  Miller filed a 2255 motion to vacate his conviction as a result.  In spite of the Government's position that Miller's conviction should be vacated (even waiving any reliance on the 1-year statute of limitations for 2255 filings), the district court denied Miller's motion, holding that Simmons did not have retroactive effect, based on earlier Fourth Circuit precedent holding that the Supreme Court immigration decision that led to Simmons was not retroactive.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed.  Applying the Teague retroactivity analysis, the court concluded that Simmons announced a new substantive rule that was retroactive, even though the Supreme Court case that led to that decision announced a new procedural, rather than substantive, rule (and therefore is not retroactive).  The court distinguished its earlier case, upon which the district court relied, by noting that the dispositive issue in that case was whether the 2255 motion was timely filed, which involved deciding the retroactivity of the Supreme Court immigration case, but not Simmons.

Congrats to the Defender office in WNC on the win!

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