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United States v. Martin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

June 15, 2017



          Jackson L. Kiser, Senior United States District Judge

         Petitioner Eligia Junior Martin, a federal inmate, filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his 180-month sentence following a guilty plea. Martin asserts that he no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) because his predicate convictions no longer support such a designation following the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). The government filed a motion to dismiss, and Martin responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. After careful review of the record, and in light of Johnson, the court will grant Martin's § 2255 motion, and deny the government's motion to dismiss.


         On December 28, 2006, Martin was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(e). Indictment at 4, ECF No. 3. Martin pleaded guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement. ECF No. 128.

         A Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) was created prior to sentencing. It recommended that Martin be designated an armed career criminal based on three prior Virginia convictions for statutory burglary.[1] PSR ¶ 31, 32, ECF No. 88. Because of this designation, the PSR recommended a total offense level of 30 and a criminal history category of IV, resulting in a sentencing range of 135 to 168 months' incarceration. Id. ¶ 61. In addition, he faced a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years' incarceration. Id. at 60; 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2). Without the armed career criminal enhancement, Martin would have faced a statutory maximum of ten years' incarceration. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). I adopted the PSR and sentenced Martin to 180 months' imprisonment to run concurrent to a state sentence that he had previously received. Judgment at 2, ECF No. 180. Martin did not appeal.

         Following his conviction, Martin filed numerous § 2255 motions, ECF Nos. 133, 142, 174, 197, all of which were denied. Prior to filing his most recent § 2255 motion, Martin received authorization from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to file a successive petition. Notice at 1, ECF No. 235.

         In this § 2255 motion, Martin alleges that the Supreme Court's Johnson decision invalidates his ACCA enhanced sentence because his Virginia predicate convictions no longer qualify as violent felonies. The court appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent Martin, although it declined to provide supplemental briefing and I granted its subsequent motion to withdraw. Notice of Non-filing, ECF No 238, Order Granting Withdrawal, 239. The government filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Martin's petition was time barred and that Virginia burglary qualifies as a violent felony, even after Johnson. Martin filed a motion to appoint counsel, recognizing that the arguments raised in the motion to dismiss had not been resolved in this district. Motion at 1-2, ECF No. 254. I appointed counsel to represent Martin, who filed an amended § 2255 motion. ECF No. 259.


         To state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a petitioner must prove: (1) that his sentence was “imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States;” (2) that “the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence;” or (3) that “the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). When a petitioner already has filed a § 2255 motion, he may obtain relief in a second or subsequent petition by establishing that “a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable, ” invalidates his sentence. Id. § 2255(h). Martin bears the burden of proving grounds for a collateral attack by a preponderance of the evidence. Miller v. United States, 261 F.2d 546, 547 (4th Cir. 1958).


         A. The ACCA Enhanced Sentence Structure

         Martin challenges the viability of the predicate offenses used to support his status as an armed career criminal. Federal law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Defendants who violate this law are subject to a term of up to ten years' imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). However, when defendants convicted of a § 922(g) charge have three or more prior convictions for “serious drug offenses” or “violent felonies, ” they qualify as armed career criminals under the ACCA. Armed career criminals face an increased punishment: a statutory mandatory minimum of fifteen years' imprisonment and a maximum of life. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).

         In Johnson, the Supreme Court invalidated part of the definition of “violent felony” under the ACCA. 135 S.Ct. at 2563. The ...

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