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United States v. Samuels

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

September 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ASTON DENNISTOR SAMUELS, JR.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge.

         Aston Dennistor Samuels, Jr., a federal inmate proceeding with counsel, filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Motion ("§ 2255 Motion/' ECF No. 80) arguing that his firearm convictions are invalid under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). For the reasons set out below, the § 2255 Motion will be granted.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 18, 2007, Samuels was charged in a ten-count Second Superseding Indictment with multiple counts of obstructing', delaying, and interfering with commerce by robbery ("Hobbs Act robbery") and using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. (ECF No. 33, at 1-7.) As pertinent here, Samuels was charged with the following crimes': conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery (Count One); the Hobbs Act robbery of the Red, Hot, & Blue Restaurant in Henrico County, Virginia (Count Two); using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, to wit, the conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery charged in Count One and the Hobbs Act robbery charged in Count Two (Count Three); the Hobbs Act robbery of the McDonalds Restaurant in Richmond, Virginia (Count Six); and using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, to wit, the conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery charged in Count One and the Hobbs Act robbery charged in Count Six (Count Seven) . (ECF No. 33, at 1- 4.)

         On February 14, 2008, pursuant to a Plea Agreement, Samuels pled guilty to Counts One, Three, and Seven. (ECF No. 36, at 1- 2.) The Plea Agreement specified the predicate crime of violence for the firearm charges in Counts Three and Seven was the Hobbs Act conspiracy charged in Count One. (Id.) Specifically, the relevant portion of the Plea Agreement provided:

The defendant agrees to plead guilty to Counts One, Three, and Seven of the pending Superseding Indictment.
b. Count Three charges that the defendant, in furtherance of a crime of violence for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, to wit: conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, did knowingly and unlawfully possess and brandish, and did aid, abet, counsel, command, induce and cause to be brandished, firearms, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c) ....
c. Count Seven charges the defendant, in furtherance of a crime of violence for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, to wit: conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, did knowingly and unlawfully possess and brandish, and did aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, and cause to be possessed and brandished, firearms, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c).

(ECF No. 36, at 1-2.) Critically, the Plea Agreement omitted any reference to a non-conspiracy Hobbs Act robbery as a predicate crime of violence for Counts Three and Seven.

         On May 30, 2008, the Court sentenced Samuels to 130 months on Count One, 84 months on Count Three, and 300 months on Count Seven, to be served consecutively. (ECF No. 54, at 2.)

         On June 13, 2016, Samuels filed this § 2255 Motion arguing that his convictions and sentences on Count Three and Seven must be vacated because of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). Initially, the Government responded by moving to dismiss the § 2255 Motion on the ground that it was barred by the statute of limitations. As discussed below, after the Court required further briefing in light of recent decisions from the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court, the Government abandoned that defense.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), the Supreme Court held "that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act [("ACCA").] violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process, " id. at 2563, because the Residual Clause of the ACCA, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (2) (B) (ii), defined "violent felony" in an unconstitutionally vague manner for the reason that the Residual Clause encompassed "conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." Id. at 2557-58 (citation omitted).[1] Subsequently, in Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), the Supreme Court held that "Johnson announced a substantive rule [of law] that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review." Id. at 1268.

         In his § 2255 Motion, Samuels asserts that after Johnson, conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery can no longer qualify as crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3), and thus that his convictions under Counts Three and Seven must be vacated. As explained below, recent decisions from the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit support Samuels's challenge to Counts Three and Seven where his firearm convictions are predicated upon conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery.

         A. Conspiracy To Commit Hobbs Act Robbery Cannot Serve As A Valid Predicate Crime Of Violence For The § 924(c) Charges In Counts Three And Seven

         Title 18 U.S.C. 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 baseline additional period of imprisonment is five years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (1) (A) (i) . If the defendant brandishes the firearm, the additional period of imprisonment increases to at least seven years. Id. § 924(c) (1) (A) (ii). And, if the defendant discharges the firearm, the additional period of imprisonment increases to at least ten years. Id. § 924(c) (1) (A) (iii).

         At the time of Samuels's conviction, the United States could demonstrate that an underlying offense constitutes a crime of violence if it established that the offense is a felony and satisfies one of two requirements. Namely, the statute defined a crime of violence as any felony:

(A) [that] has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another [(the "Force 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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