Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No Johnson Relief for Pre-Booker Defendants

US v. Brown: Brown was convicted on drug and gun charges and sentenced as a career offender back in the pre-Booker mandatory Guideline era. One of his prior convictions was for assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest in South Carolina. After Johnson was decided in 2015, Brown filed a 2255 motion arguing that Johnson made the residual clause of the "crime of violence" definition inactive and that his assault conviction didn't otherwise require the use of force. The district court denied the motion.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial, 2-1. We know that after Beckles defendants sentenced after Booker came out are doomed, because the Supreme Court held that advisory Guidelines are not subject to challenge as being unconstitutionally vague. But what about pre-Booker defendants like Brown? Brown argued that Beckles didn't address that issue and that a close reading of Johnson, Booker, and Beckles shows that the Supreme Court has recognized the right he is trying to assert - to not be sentenced pursuant to a unconstitutionally vague mandatory Guideline range. The Fourth Circuit concluded that was precisely the problem - by leaving the question open, the Supreme Court has not actually recognized the right Brown needs to take advantage of. As a result, there is no new declaration of a right that restarts the 1-year limitation on filing 2255 motions. As a result, Brown's motion was untimely because it was filed well after his conviction became final in 2003.

Chief Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that a newly recognized right it not just the "four corners of that holding" in which it is announced, but "is more sensibly read to include the reasoning and principles that explain it."

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