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United States v. Jefferson

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 24, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SHERMAN JEFFERSON

          SECTION L

          ORDER AND REASONS

          ELDON E. FALLON United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is pro se Defendant's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and his motion for appointment of counsel.[1] Rec. Doc. 68. He bases the request for relief on Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), in which the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), was unconstitutionally vague. The Government opposes Defendant's position. Rec. Doc. 77. Having considered the parties' submissions and applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In November 2004, Jefferson pleaded guilty to a five-count superseding bill of information charging violations of the Controlled Substances Act and Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g), 924(c) and 841. See Rec. Doc. 29. Specifically, Jefferson entered a guilty plea as to being a felon in possession of a firearm - a Smith & Wesson 9mm (Count 1); being a felon in possession of a firearm - Bryco 9mm (Count 2); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (Count 3); distribution of a quantity of cocaine base (Count 4); and being a felon in possession of a firearm - Yugoslavian SKS (Count 5). Jefferson pleaded guilty to a stipulated term of no more than 20 years' imprisonment pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Rec. Doc. 30 at 2-3. Nonetheless, at Jefferson's March 2006 sentencing, the Court rejected the agreed-upon sentence but accepted the guilty plea in all other aspects. See Rec. Doc. 57. Jefferson decided to proceed with sentencing. See Rec. Doc. 57. The Court sentenced Jefferson to a term of 248 months' imprisonment. See Rec. Doc. 58 at 2. Jefferson did not file a direct appeal.

         In May 2016, less than one year after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson, Jefferson filed the instant § 2255 motion. See Rec. Doc. 68 at 2. Jefferson's motion appears timely. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3); see also Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1268 (2016) (stating that “Johnson announced a substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review”). In his motion, Jefferson argues that 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(c) are unconstitutionally vague after Johnson. See Rec. Doc. 68 at 1. Moreover, Jefferson argues that “it was not reasonable for [him] to have foreseen, at the time the [plea] agreement was made, that the Supreme Court would later rule applicable definitions of the crime [he] pleaded guilty to unconstitutional.” Rec. Doc. 78. He further requests assistance of counsel for the instant proceeding.

         In response, the Government argues (1) Defendant waived his right to contest his conviction and sentence in this type of post-conviction proceeding; (2) Defendant's claims are procedurally barred; and (3) even if Defendant's claims were not waived or procedurally barred, Defendant's Johnson claims fails on the merits. See Rec. Doc. 77.

         The instant opinion addresses Defendant's motion and the parties' arguments.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a federal prisoner may move the court that imposed his sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Section 2255 identifies only four bases on which the motion may be made: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is “otherwise subject to collateral attack.” Id.; see also United States v. Placente, 81 F.3d 555, 558 (5th Cir. 1996). A claim of error that is neither constitutional nor jurisdictional is not cognizable in a section 2255 proceeding unless the error constitutes a “fundamental error” that “renders the entire proceeding irregular or invalid.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 185 (1979).

         The petitioner bears the burden of establishing his claims of error by a preponderance of the evidence. Wright v. Bondurant, 689 F.2d 1246, 1251 (5th Cir. 1982). If the Court finds that the prisoner is entitled to relief, it “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendant's Claims Are Waived.

         The Government argues the Defendant's § 2255 motion should be dismissed because he waived his right to collaterally challenge his conviction and sentence. A defendant's waiver of his statutory right to collaterally challenge his conviction with a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, like a waiver by a defendant of his right to appeal, is generally enforceable if the waiver is both knowing and voluntary. See United ...


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