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United States v. Taylor

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

July 17, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAVID ANTHONY TAYLOR, Defendant. Civil Action No. 7:17CV81229

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad United States District Judge.

         Defendant David Taylor, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, moved to partially vacate, set aside, and correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government filed a motion to dismiss, and Taylor responded. As the court concludes that Taylor's claims lack merit, the government's motion to dismiss will be granted.

         Background

         A jury convicted Taylor for robbing two marijuana dealers on August 27 and October 21, 2009. Both the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court affirmed Taylor's convictions. See United States v. Taylor, 754 F.3d 217 (4th Cir. 2014), aff'd ___ U.S.___, 136 S.Ct. 2074 (2016).[1] As summarized in the Fourth Circuit's opinion, Taylor participated in these two armed robberies as a member of a Roanoke-based gang, the "Southwest Goonz." The Goonz targeted drug dealers as they were more likely to possess large amounts of cash and drugs in their homes and less likely to report robberies to the police.

         During the August robbery, Taylor and three other Goonz gang members broke into the home of Josh Whorley and his girlfriend, Latasha Graham. After "Taylor hit Graham in the head with his pistol, groped her, and clawed the rings off her fingers, " the Goonz only "made off with Graham's jewelry, $40 from her purse, two cell phones, and a marijuana cigarette." Id. at 220.

         Two months later, in October 2009, Taylor and two other Goonz members robbed the home of another marijuana dealer, William Lynch, who lived with his wife and their three children. "Taylor initiated the robbery by knocking on the front door" and entering the home first. Id. at 220-21. "Once inside, Taylor held Lynch and his six-year-old son at gunpoint in the living room, while another robber forced Lynch's nine-year-old daughter from her bedroom into the living room." Id. at 221. The third robber "dragged [Lynch's wife] into the living room by her hair." Id. Taylor and the Goonz eventually departed after only stealing a cell phone.

         On July 26, 2012, a grand jury indicted Taylor on four counts. See Superseding Indictment, Docket No. 22. Counts Two and Four charged Taylor with violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which imposes a mandatory consecutive sentence for using or carrying a firearm in relation to a "crime of violence." Counts One and Three, which accused Taylor of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), served as the requisite underlying "crime of violence" for Counts Two and Four, respectively.

         Taylor pled not guilty to all four counts. After the first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second trial was held on January 23-25, 2013. As a result of the second trial, a jury convicted Taylor of Counts One, Three, and Four. See Special Verdict Form, Docket No. 119. This court sentenced Taylor to a term of incarceration of 336 months. See Sentencing, Docket No. 134.

         After the Fourth Circuit and United States Supreme Court rejected Taylor's challenges to Counts One and Three, Taylor now disputes Count Four pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Taylor filed his § 2255 motion with this court on February 13, 2017. Since the United States Supreme Court affirmed Taylor's convictions on June 20, 2016, Taylor's subsequent § 2255 motion was timely filed. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition.

         Discussion

         For the reasons that follow, the court will dismiss Taylor's § 2255 motion and affirm his Count Four conviction as Taylor violated § 924(c) by using a firearm during a violent crime.

         To state a viable claim for relief under § 2255, a movant must show that his sentence is "subject to collateral attack" or was imposed either without proper jurisdiction; "in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States"; or in excess of "the maximum authorized by law." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The movant 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).

         To sustain a conviction under § 924(c), the government must prove that the defendant used or carried a firearm during and in relation to an underlying "crime of violence." See United States v. Fuertes, 805 F.3d 485, 497 (4th Cir. 2015). Here, Taylor was convicted under § 924(c) for violating the Hobbs Act. The Hobbs Act allows for the fining and imprisonment of anyone who affects or obstructs commerce "by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or [who] commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose" to do so. 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). In other words, an individual can be convicted under the Hobbs Act for "robbery, " as defined under § 1951(b)(1); "extortion, " as defined under § 1951(b)(2); and/or "attempt" or "conspiracy" to commit robbery or extortion.

         In the current matter, Taylor asserts that he was convicted of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, which he claims is not a "crime of violence" under § 924(c). Although the Fourth Circuit has addressed a few similar issues, [2] there appears to be no binding[3] precedent regarding whether conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery qualifies as a "crime of violence" to sustain a § 924(c) conviction. However, it is unnecessary to decide this first impression issue as the record clearly reflects that Taylor was convicted of the substantive offense of Hobbs Act robbery rather than the related offense of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery.

         In sum, Taylor's § 2255 motion requires the court to (1) clarify the nature of Taylor's Hobbs Act convictions (Counts One and Three); and (2) assess whether Taylor's Hobbs Act violation constitutes a "crime of ...


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