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United States v. Lyons

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

July 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RONNIE E. LYONS, JR., Petitioner.

          OPINION

          JOHN A. GIBNEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Ronnie E. Lyons, Jr., a federal inmate proceeding with counsel, brings this 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion arguing that Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), invalidates his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and his designation as a career criminal. (Dk. No. 40.) The government moved to dismiss the § 2255 motion. (Dk. Nos. 44.) As discussed below, the Court will grant the government's motion to dismiss because Lyons' claims lack merit.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 13, 2011, a grand jury charged Lyons with: two counts of robbery affecting commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951(a) and 2 (Counts One and Three); and two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of §§ 924(c) and 2 (Counts Two and Four). (Dk. No. 14.) The "crime[s] of violence" underlying Counts Two and Four were robbery affecting commerce ("Hobbs Act robbery") as charged in Counts One and Three. Lyons pled guilty to Counts One, Two, and Three. The Court determined that Lyons qualified as a career offender under § 4B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines based on his prior convictions for unlawful wounding and eluding police. (Dk. No. 25, at ¶ 58 ("PSR")). Lyons says that without a career offender enhancement, his Guidelines range would have been 130 to 162 months on Counts One and Three instead of 262 to 327 months.[2] On May 14, 2012, the Court sentenced Lyons to a total of 240 months of imprisonment. (Dk. No. 30.)

         Lyons filed a § 2255 motion on June 20, 2016, asking the Court to hold the § 2255 motion in abeyance pending a decision from the Fourth Circuit regarding whether Hobbs Act robbery is a "crime of violence" under § 924(c). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the relevant statute of limitations barred Lyons' challenge to his § 924(c) conviction. The government also requested that the Court hold Lyons' challenge to his Guidelines sentence in abeyance pending a decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017). Lyons responded that he timely filed his motion with respect to his challenge to his § 924(c) conviction. Lyons joined the government in asking the Court to hold his challenge to his career offender designation in abeyance pending a decision in Beckles.

         On November 8, 2016, the Court held the motions in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's decisions in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018), and Beckles. The government again moved to dismiss the § 2255 motion on March 23, 2017, following the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles. Lyons responded by asking the Court to continue to hold the entire § 2255 motion in abeyance pending a decision in Dimaya. On June 1, 2017, the Court held the § 2255 motion in abeyance pending a decision in Dimaya, which was issued on April 17, 2018.

         On July 30, 2018, the Court stayed all motions pending the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Simms, 914 F.3d 229 (4th Cir. 2019), which was issued on January 24, 2019. On June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). As Davis was "the last Johnson domino to fall," Simms, 914 F.3d at 252, the Court will now decide Lyons' motion.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In Johnson, the Supreme Court held "that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act [("ACCA")[3] violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process." 135 S.Ct. at 2563. The Johnson Court found the definition of a "violent felony" in the ACCA's residual clause unconstitutionally vague because the clause encompassed "conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another," which defied clear definition. Id. at 2557-58. In Beckles, the Court held that Johnson did not invalidate the identical residual clause of U.S.S.G. §4B1.2 because the Guidelines are not subject to a vagueness challenge under the Due Process Clause. 137 S.Ct. at 892. Most recently, the Fourth Circuit in Simms, 914 F.3d at 236, and the Supreme Court in Davis, 139 S.Ct. at 2336, deemed the similarly worded residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) unconstitutionally vague.

         A. Lyons' Challenge to His Firearm Conviction

         Lyons says that the "residual clause" of § 924(c)(3) is unconstitutionally vague and that Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence under the "elements clause" of § 924(c)(3). Accordingly, Lyons asserts that Hobbs Act robbery cannot constitute a crime of violence, so the Court must vacate his conviction for Count Two.

         Section 924(c)(1)(A) provides for consecutive periods of imprisonment when a defendant uses or carries a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The law requires a minimum prison term of five years, which increases to seven years if the defendant brandishes the firearm and ten years if the defendant discharges the firearm. An underlying offense constitutes a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3) if it is a felony and:

(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another [(the "elements clause")], or
(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense ...

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