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United States v. Hager

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

September 15, 2017



          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Petitioner Lyle Dennis Hager, III, brings this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, asking the court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States. 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). ECF No. 204. The government has moved to dismiss Hager's § 2255 motion. ECF No. 212. For the reasons that follow, the court will GRANT Hagers's § 2255 motion and DENY die United States' motion to dismiss.


         On January 5, 2010, Hager pleaded guilty to three counts of a superseding indictment: (1) drug conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; (2) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); and (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1).

         Prior to sentencing the United States Probation Department prepared a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"). The PSR recommended that Hager be considered an armed career criminal and receive an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), based on four prior convictions: (1) Virginia breaking and entering (1997); (2) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (1998); and (3) distribution of methamphetamine (two counts) (1998). PSR ¶¶ 38, 41, and 42, ECF No. 149. Hagar objected to his ACCA enhancement, arguing that his Virginia burglary conviction should not count as a predicate offense and that his two counts for distribution of methamphetamine should count as only one predicate. Id. at Addendum. The probation officer responded that Hagar's prior convictions were properly classified as ACCA predicates and that another of his prior convictions, Virginia feloniously eluding police (2003), also supported his armed career criminal designation. Id.

         The court overruled Hager's objections to his ACCA enhancement, adopted the PSR without change, and sentenced Hager to 180 months' incarceration for his drug conspiracy and § 922(g) offenses and a consecutive 60 months' incarceration for his § 924(c) offense. Judgment at 2, ECF No. 141.

         In accordance with Standing Rule 15-5, the court appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent Hager with regard to any claim for relief that he might have under § 2255 following the Johnson decision. Hager had previously filed a § 2255 motion, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted him permission to file a second or subsequent motion. ECF No. 203. Subsequently, defense counsel filed a § 2255 motion alleging that Johnson invalidated Hagar's ACCA enhanced sentence because his Virginia burglary and elude arrest convictions no longer qualify as violent felonies and his two drug distribution convictions count as one predicate. § 2255 Mot. at 1, ECF No. 204; Supp. § 2255 Mot. at 1, ECF No. 223.


         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 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). Hager 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

         Hager 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, " that were "committed on occasions different from one another, " 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 ACCA defines ...

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