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United States v. Freeman

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

November 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
LINDSEY O. FREEMAN (01)

          KAY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a “Motion to Reopen 2255 Proceedings” [Doc. No. 39] filed by defendant Lindsay O. Freeman. Pursuant to the motion, Freeman seeks reconsideration of this Court's May 28, 2019 Judgment, which dismissed his original motion to vacate without prejudice. [Doc. No. 38]. On July 23, 2019, the Court referred the Motion to Reopen 2255 Proceedings to the Magistrate Judge for Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). [Doc. No. 40]. On August 27, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued her R&R and recommended the motion be denied. [Doc. No. 44]. Freeman has filed objections to the R&R. [Doc. No. 45]. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the Motion to Reopen [Doc. No. 39] and DENIES the motion to vacate [Doc. Nos. 20, 34] on the merits.

         On August 12, 2004, Freeman and others were indicted for crimes related to a series of casino robberies in South Louisiana between December 2003 and July 2004. See United States v. Ceasar, et al., No. 2:04-CR-20115 (W.D.La. Aug. 12, 2004), Doc. No. 1. Specifically, Freeman was charged in two counts of a six-count indictment with the following offenses: Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 371 (Count 1)[1], and Interference with Commerce by Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1951(a) (Count 2).[2]Id. On April 8, 2005, Freeman was charged in the above-captioned case (2:05-CR-20058-01) in a one-count bill of information with “Use, Carry, Possess, and Brandish a Firearm During a Crime of Violence, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). On May 3, 2005, Freeman pleaded guilty to Count 1 of the indictment (conspiracy to commit robbery) and to Count 1 of the bill of information (using, carrying or possessing a firearm during a crime of violence). Freeman was sentenced on March 23, 2006 to sixty months incarceration on the conspiracy charge and 120 months on the firearm charge, with the sentences to run consecutively. Freeman did not appeal his conviction or sentence in either case.

         On or about November 13, 2018, Freeman, proceeding pro se, filed his first § 2255 motion, seeking relief from his § 924(c) conviction. [Doc. No. 20]. On November 29, 2018, counsel enrolled on his behalf and subsequently filed an Amended Motion to Vacate. [Doc. Nos. 29, 34]. Pursuant to his motion, Freeman alleged he was entitled to relief from his firearm conviction and sentence under Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018). In Dimaya, the Supreme Court extended the holding of Johnson[3] to a similar residual clause under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Dimaya at 1210. Thereafter, the Fifth Circuit held that the residual clause of the definition of “crime of violence” in § 924(c), the statute under which Freeman was convicted, is likewise unconstitutionally vague. United States v. Davis, 903 F.3d 483, 486 (5th Cir. 2018), cert. granted, 139 S.Ct. 782 (2019), and aff'd in part, vacated in part, remanded, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019). The government opposed Freeman's motion, arguing it was untimely and that it failed on the merits. [Doc. No. 35].

         On April 5, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued her report and recommendation, finding in pertinent part:

As the Fifth Circuit recently recognized, neither Johnson nor Dimaya starts the clock for challenging a § 924(c) conviction under § 2255 - even though the Court directed courts of appeals to reconsider § 924(c) in light of Dimaya. United States v. Williams, 897 F.3d 660, 662 (5th Cir. 2018). Although the Fifth Circuit determined a few months later in Davis, supra, that § 924(c) is unconstitutionally vague under Dimaya and Johnson, this does not yet amount to recognition of the right by the United States Supreme Court.
. . . Accordingly, his motion must be dismissed as untimely. Such dismissal should be without prejudice to his right to reassert the claim if the Supreme Court upholds the Fifth Circuit's ruling in Davis, or otherwise expressly invalidates the residual clause of § 924(c).

[Doc. No. 36 at 4]. On May 28, 2019, the Court adopted the R&R and dismissed the motion as untimely without prejudice to Freeman's right to reassert the motion “in the event that the United States Supreme Court invalidates the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).” [Doc. No. 38].

         On or about July 8, 2019, Freeman filed the pending pro se “Motion to Reopen 2255 Proceedings” [Doc. No. 39], asserting “[o]n June 24, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held section 924(c) unconstitutionally vague in United States v. Davis, No. 18-431, ” thereby warranting relief under § 2255. [Doc. No. 39 at 2]. The Court again referred the motion to the Magistrate Judge for R&R. On August 27, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued her R&R and recommended that the motion be denied. [Doc. No. 44]. In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge construes the motion as a motion for reconsideration and finds the motion to be untimely under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. Alternatively, the Magistrate Judge finds that even if construed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b), the Court is without authority to grant the relief requested, reasoning, “The Fifth Circuit has expressly found that ‘[a] change in decisional law after entry of judgment does not constitute exceptional circumstances and is not alone grounds for relief from a final judgment under Rule 60(b)(6).” Id. at 2 (quoting Adams v. Thaler, 679 F.3d 312, 319-20 (5th Cir. 2012)).[4] Freeman has timely objected to the R&R, and the motion is now ripe for ruling.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the motion should be construed as a Rule 60(b)(6) motion.[5] See Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 381 (2003) (explaining that federal courts may “ignore the legal label that a pro se litigant attaches to a motion and recharacterize the motion in order to place it within a different legal category”). “When faced with a Rule 60(b) motion filed in response to the denial of an application for habeas relief, the district court must first determine whether the petitioner is only seeking Rule 60(b) relief or is attempting to file a second or successive habeas application.” Webb v. Davis, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 5205899, *3 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 531-32 (2005)); see also United States v. Hernandes, 708 F.3d 680, 681 (5th Cir. 2013). If the petitioner is attempting to file a second or successive habeas application, he must first obtain authorization from the appropriate appellate court before he may proceed. Webb at *3. If he is only seeking Rule 60(b) relief, appellate court authorization is not required. Id. “A purported Rule 60(b) motion should be construed as a successive habeas application when it raises a new theory of relief or disputes the district court's substantive resolution of a claim.” Id. “In contrast, a Rule 60(b) motion that attacks ‘some defect in the integrity of the federal habeas proceedings' or a procedural ruling that precluded a merits determination should not be construed as an unauthorized successive habeas application.” Id. (quoting Gonzalez at 533).

         In this matter, the Court dismissed Freeman's original § 2255 motion as untimely, not because it was filed too late, but because it was filed too early. Freeman's motion was filed too early, because the validity of § 924(c)(3)(B) had not yet been addressed by the Supreme Court.[6]See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3); United States v. Williams, 897 F.3d 660, 662 (5th Cir. 2018). Therefore, the Court did not reach the merits of Freeman's claim, and the original motion was dismissed without prejudice. Accordingly, the Court finds Freeman's motion is not considered a second or successive § 2255 motion and does not require a certificate of appealability from the Fifth Circuit. Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 532 n.4; U.S. v. Williams, 194 F.3d 1308, *1 (5th Cir. 1999); Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal, 523 U.S. 637, 644-45 (1998) (a habeas petitioner's claim raised for the second time after his first claim was dismissed without prejudice as premature was not a “second or successive” application under AEDPA); Moreland v. Robinson, 813 F.3d 315, 322-25 (6th Cir. 2016) (Where a Rule 60(b) motion is filed after district court dismisses original petition, but before the period to appeal the district court's judgment has expired, the motion is not a second or successive application).[7]

         Accordingly, the Court turns to the merits of Freeman's petition.[8] While the determination of whether or not this Court has jurisdiction to address the substance of Freeman's claim required a lengthy analysis, the merits are easily resolved. As previously stated, on May 3, 2005, Freeman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1 of the Indictment in No. 2:04-CR-20115) and to using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of § 924(c)(1) (Count 1 of the bill of information in the pending case). The predicate offense for Freeman's 924(c) conviction was not conspiracy to commit robbery, but rather, was “armed robbery of the Gold Mine Casino, 1671 Highway 190, Eunice, Louisiana” on December 10, 2003. [Doc. No. 5-3 at 1; see also Doc. No. 1; Doc. No. 5-4; and No. 2:04-CR-20115, Doc. No. 583 at 57-58]. Unlike conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, interference with commerce by robbery satisfies the elements clause of 924(c). See United States v. Buck,847 F.3d 267, 274-75 (5th Cir. 2017); United States v. Jones, 935 F.3d 266, 271 (5th Cir. 2019); see also U.S. v. Ramos-Rodriguez,136 F.3d 465, 467 (5th Cir. 1998) (a conviction under 924(c) does not require conviction on an underlying crime of violence, and even acquittal of the predicate offense will ...


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